Shortly after the pandemic began over a year ago, Americans joked about the dreaded “Quarantine 15”. They feared they could gain weight if trapped in homes with supplies of food stuck on computer screens watching Netflix.
The concern is real, but assessing the scope of the problem has been challenging. Surveys that simply ask people their weight are notoriously unreliable, and many doctor visits have been virtual.
A very small study of objective readings – weight measurements from Bluetooth-connected smart scales – suggests that adults given on-site protection gained more than half a pound every 10 days.
That’s almost two pounds a month, said Dr. Gregory M. Marcus, senior author of the research letter released Monday in the peer-reviewed JAMA Network Open. Americans who had maintained their lockdown habits would have easily gained 20 pounds over the course of a year, he added.
“We know that weight gain is already a public health problem in the US. Anything that makes it worse definitely matters, and housing orders are so ubiquitous that the sheer number of people involved makes them extremely relevant . ” said Dr. Marcus, cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco.
While it is nearly impossible to make generalizations based on the study, which fewer than 300 people enrolled in the United States, all participants regularly tracked their weight.
Many of these people lost weight before protection warrants were issued in their states, noted Dr. Marcus firmly. “It is reasonable to assume that these people are generally more health-related, more disciplined and in control,” he said. “That suggests we might be underestimating – that this is the tip of the iceberg.”
Obesity has been linked to a higher risk of developing more severe Covid-19 disease, and the United States already has one of the highest rates of overweight and obesity in the world. About 42 percent of American adults over the age of 20 are obese as defined by the body mass index, while another 32 percent of Americans are simply overweight.
The risk of serious illness has also been documented in young adults who are overweight or obese. Many states prioritize people who are overweight or obese for vaccinations, along with people who have other chronic conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
The new study analyzed data from 269 participants involved in an ongoing cardiac study, the Health eHeart Study. They volunteered to report weight measurements from Bluetooth-connected smart scales and weighed themselves regularly. The researchers collected 7,444 weight measurements over a four month period, an average of 28 weight measurements from each participant.
March 23, 2021, 7:41 a.m. ET
The group was by no means nationally representative, so the results cannot be generalized: about three-quarters were white and only 3.5 percent were identified as black or African American; About 3 percent were identified as Asian-American. The median age was 51 years and they were almost equally divided between men and women.
Participants came from 37 states and the District of Columbia. The researchers analyzed weight measurements taken between February 1, 2020 and June 1, 2020 to examine weight changes both before and after protection orders were placed for each state.
While attendees had mostly lost pounds before orders were placed, their weights increased steadily at a rate of about six tenths of a pound every 10 days after orders were placed, regardless of where they were in the country and regardless of chronic illness.
The bans have certainly had an impact on eating habits, what people eat and how often they eat. But the restrictions have also limited the modest physical activity that is part of daily life, the researchers said.
“When you think of people commuting, even walking to the subway or bus stop, or getting on the post office to mail a letter, or stopping in a store, we burn a lot of calories doing outside of everyday life. “Said Leanne Redman, a professor of clinical physiology at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, part of Louisiana State University.
Their research found that people ate healthier diets for the first few days of shutdown, but were more sedentary.
A previous study by UCSF researchers looked at the daily step counts recorded by smartphones from nearly half a million people in nearly 200 countries. The number of steps people took dropped 27 percent every month after the World Health Organization declared the pandemic.
Exercise concern also extends to children who have been known to put on unhealthy pounds during the summer vacation when they are away from school. The risk is even greater for Hispanic and black children than for white children, said Andrew G. Rundle, associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, author of a recent paper expressing concern that School closings would exacerbate the existing race health disparities.
“We have argued that early school leaving, which we thought would be six months and longer, like the summer break would be, but worse because everyone would be loaded with storage-stable high-calorie foods and stay indoors and not go out,” he said. “Anything that makes the summer dangerous for children would be compounded by the lockdown.”