By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
Since last March, the coronavirus pandemic has affected nearly everyone in the world. Massive restrictions remain in place today that have resulted in people staying at home more often either because of unemployment or teleworking, and the continued need to maintain social distancing to reduce the risk of contracting or spreading the disease.
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Spending more time indoors plus anxiety about the pandemic have left many Americans dealing with weight gain struggles due to excessive snacking, unhealthy eating habits and a lack of exercise. Healthcare providers are seeing a growing number of weight issues during the pandemic.
Dr. Deborah Horn, an obesity medicine specialist, says “we are seeing individuals struggle with weight gain because of major life changes stemming from COVID-19.” Dr. Horn, who is the director of the Center for Obesity Medicine and Metabolic Performance at University of Texas Physicians, attributes weight gain during the pandemic to “several factors, including working from home, constant access to a kitchen, snacking on highly processed foods, limited access to gyms, increased stress, and how their own genetics and physiology responds to these changes.”
The Myriad Health Problems Associated with Weight Gain
Weight gain during the pandemic can result in myriad health problems. Being overweight is commonly associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, strokes, high cholesterol and hypertension.
Obesity also has implications for the coronavirus itself. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity increases the risk of severe illness from the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus and may triple the risk of hospitalization.
Furthermore, the CDC notes that obesity is linked to impaired immune function, decreased lung capacity that makes breathing more difficult and a higher risk of death. There may also be a link between obesity and lower vaccine responses for numerous diseases.
Strategies for Weight Management During the Pandemic
During the pandemic and even afterward, several important steps can be taken to promote weight loss. Proper nutrition and exercise are especially important in maintaining a healthy weight, which can reduce the risk of serious illness. Nutrition and exercise may also reduce the risk of serious complications from the coronavirus.
Dietary changes that include foods high in fiber and low in processed foods and red meat are helpful. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables can have a positive effect on both weight loss and an increased immune system.
Similarly, developing a workout plan at home can also be helpful while many gyms still have occupancy restrictions and other fitness facilities remain closed.
Stress can lead to weight gain for several reasons. Stress can cause overeating, increased alcohol consumption, a lack of sleep and high blood pressure. Stress can be reduced through exercise, avoiding procrastination, limiting constant exposure to upsetting media news, adding leisure activities, and seeking the social support of friends and family.
Developing an organized daily routine that provides time for work and family responsibilities, exercise, and proper nutrition is the most effective way to remain healthy and avoid weight gain during the pandemic. And of course, routine doctor visits and annual physical checkups are also important to maintain good health.