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Study: COVID-inspired shelter-in-place orders caused significant weight gains in the American population


Know what increases COVID mortality? Obesity.

Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

One of the eminently predictable — but widely ignored by health experts — side effects of the lockdowns imposed by governments over the last year is that Americans gained weight. Exactly how much weight is still a subject of some debate. Most of the evidence gathered thus far has been self-reported, such as a recent poll suggesting that 60% of Americans gained unwanted weight during the pandemic.

A new study, however, released by the Journal of American Medical Association Network Open, which studied respondents from 37 states and the District of Columbia, found that respondents gained an average of 0.27 kg (about 0.6 pounds) of body weight per 10 days during the study. For perspective, that means that Americans may have gained as much as an average of 22 pounds in the first year after lockdowns began.

Data for the study was collected from actual weights based on readings from Bluetooth-enabled scales owned and used by study participants. As noted by the study authors, "Weight is a clinically relevant health outcome that is independently associated with all-cause mortality. It is also a helpful proxy for physical activity, another measurement associated with all-cause mortality. ... It is important to recognize the unintended health consequences SIP can have on a population level. The detrimental health outcomes suggested by these data demonstrate a need to identify concurrent strategies to mitigate weight gain, such as encouraging healthy diets and exploring ways to enhance physical activity, as local governments consider new constraints in response to SARS-CoV-2 and potential future pandemics."

In addition to the health problems caused directly by weight gain, one of the most important predictors of COVID mortality is obesity. Even research from early in the pandemic suggested that obese individuals were much more likely to either die or suffer severe complications from COVID than non-obese individuals. Subsequent research has suggested that the link between obesity and COVID mortality might be even stronger than previously thought, such as a recent study that found that about 90% of global COVID deaths occurred in countries with high obesity rates.

Study co-author Dr. Gregory M. Marcus told UPI, "Many of us don't fully realize how much physical activity we routinely perform when we are more freely out and about in the world, whether walking up the stairs to a meeting room, walking to the bus or even standing on the subway... Clicking from one Zoom to another doesn't burn a lot of calories."

Rather than suggesting that shelter-in-place orders should not be given, Marcus suggested that those orders should be accompanied by "other messaging... For example, remember to schedule in time to exercise and stay physically active and avoid snacking between meals as much as possible."

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