Another health consequence of the pandemic: weight gain
by Stephen J. Grindel, DO —
When I began reviewing articles for this column, I was looking for the effect of the pandemic on Americans’ weight. Most of the information I found was related to the effect of weight on the individual’s response to the COVID-19 virus.
If you are overweight (defined as a BMI of greater than 25) or obese (BMI>30), you are at higher risk for severe COVID-19 than individuals with a BMI of less than 25. This includes symptoms of the illness such as coughing, shortness of breath and change in taste. You may also be at risk for a longer duration of symptoms.
The literature regarding the effect of the pandemic on weight showed the results I expected. A recent American Psychological Association survey indicated that 42% of American adults have gained weight during the pandemic, with an average self-reported weight gain of 29 pounds.
Another study found that in children ages 5-11, the average increase in weight was 24% among 190,000 subjects. For 12- to 15-year-olds, the average weight gain was 13%, and in 16- to 17-year-olds, the gain was 8%. The causes of the weight gain are related to physical inactivity along with increased screen time and access to unhealthy foods, according to researchers.
In 2011, according to CDC data, the number of states with an obesity rate of over 35% was zero. Currently, there are 16 states with an obesity rate of over 35%, including Kansas. Four states joined that list during the pandemic. No state has an obesity rate less than 24%.
Possible causes for these increases include sedentary behavior, stress and job or income loss, which can lead to unhealthy eating. According to Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford of Harvard University, stress induces fat storage.
Obesity is a disease that is often unrecognized and undertreated. It is the prodrome for many of our disease states, including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, diabetes and cancer. We all need to be vigilant in treating this disease, which is rapidly expanding.
We have our work cut out for us.