Pending Consequences of the Pandemic- Weight Gain in the USA

blue tape measuring on clear glass square weighing scale
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We are a year into this pandemic, and the potential long-term impacts on our collective health are getting clearer. As a society, the mental health burden will likely grow as we grieve and adapt to a new way of living. In prior posts, I have reflected on data that suggests pandemic-related weight gain in the USA and other countries is on the rise as people cope with being at home for extended periods.

A new paper in JAMA Network by Anthony Lin and colleagues from UCSF in San Francisco sheds light on body weight changes during the pandemic. This cohort study was based on 269 participants in the Health eHeart Study and examined data from February to June 2020 in participants who had recorded weights via their connected smart-scales. The participants generated 7444 weight measurements over this period. The sample was 48% male, and 52% female, and 77% were White individuals. The mean age was 51.9 years, but age data was only available for 62.8% of the sample. Overall, participants represented 37 States and Washington, District of Columbia.

The weight gain trajectories seen from the study period showed a .27kg increase in weight for every ten days; this was consistent regardless of comorbidities or geographic location. This translates into a 1.5 lb/month gain for every month studied. Obesity is a chronic relapsing condition and is often a co-morbid condition in people with diabetes and heart disease. It also complicates pain and mobility for those with musculoskeletal disorders.

Can public policy develop mitigating approaches to blunt the impact of shelter-in-place orders in the future? How might we get individuals and communities back to full health post-pandemic? All countries had messages supporting the need for daily or regular exercise, but this may have seemed odd for messages about staying and home and staying away from family and loved ones as a means to keep safe. Obesity is more complex than calories in/out what other behaviors changed that led to a steady weight gain month after month?

Coupled with a jolt to ordinary routines, sleep data from other studies show insomnia being prevalent during the pandemic. Good quality sleep is essential for health and data is clear that a lack of sleep also influences our food choices.

Based on this data are we likely to see an uptick in those newly diagnosed with chronic conditions? What percentage of the population had weight gain trajectories? We have seen other data sets reflect the pandemic’s impact being more grave in different people, primarily African American and Latinx communities. This data provides a sobering glimpse of the next one to three years of the nation’s health as we navigate our way through this pandemic.

Thanks for reading – Trina
(Opinions are my own)

Lin AL, Vittinghoff E, Olgin JE, Pletcher MJ, Marcus GM. Body Weight Changes During Pandemic-Related Shelter-in-Place in a Longitudinal Cohort Study. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(3):e212536. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.2536

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I’m also wondering about the effects of long-term chronic stress on body weight, particularly given that especially at the beginning, people didn’t have any idea how long the stressor (pandemic) might continue or how bad it might get. That’s the story I’ve been sticking to 😂 Great post!

    1. Absolutely the weight gain will also be bringing an increased inflammatory response so that keeps stoking the fires and challenging our immune systems even more. Self care is so Important at this time as we navigate our way through this.

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