Americans Are Getting Quite Plump During Lockdown

Weight gain doesn't have to be a shame, but we do need to take steps in the right direction
April 22, 2021 Updated: April 22, 2021

It was about one year ago, in spring 2020, when the jokes about the “quarantine 15” weight gain began making the rounds. But one year later, a longitudinal cohort study by researchers at the University of California shows that we underestimated the problem.

According to the Trust for America’s Health State of Obesity 2020 report, 42.4 percent of U.S. adults are obese, which is the first time the national rate has topped 40 percent. To put this into perspective, the overall rate has increased 26 percent from a mere 13 years ago (2008). In 2012, there was no state with a rate above 35 percent. Data from the 2020 report showed there were 12 states with a rate above 35 percent.

Childhood obesity is also growing, with the latest information showing 19.3 percent of young people ages 2 to 19 are obese, as compared to 5.5 percent in the mid-1970s.

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) showed another 30.7 percent of adults were overweight and 9.2 percent were severely obese (BMI over 40).

This means that 73.1 percent of the population is either overweight, obese, or severely obese.

New data gathered during 2020 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals these rates may be even higher in the next NHANES survey, increasing the number of people who experience higher risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, mental illness, and all-cause mortality.

Americans Gained Weight Steadily During 2020

The results of the University of California’s longitudinal cohort study, publish found that participants experienced a consistent weight gain of 0.27 kg (0.59 pounds) every 10 days. The results were gathered from 269 participants in the Health eHeart Study.

Participants volunteered to report their weight using their Fitbit or iHealth smart scale. The cohort was not fully representative of the general public, as they resided in 37 states and the District of Columbia, 48.3 percent were men, 77 percent were white, and their mean age was 51.9. At the end of the study, the researchers had 7,444 separate weight measurements spanning Feb. 1, 2020, to June 1, 2020.

This offered data before lockdowns were in place as well as after. Dr. Gregory Marcus, senior author of the study, expressed concern that the trending weight gain, which totaled 1.5 pounds per month, may extend after the lockdown restrictions end.

Over the course of a year, this would have totaled 20 pounds. He noted that many of those being tracked had been losing weight prior to the lockdown orders. Speaking to The New York Times, he said:

“It’s reasonable to assume these individuals are more engaged with their health in general, and more disciplined and on top of things. That suggests we could be underestimating—that this is the tip of the iceberg.”

“We know that weight gain is a public health problem in the U.S. already, so anything making it worse is definitely concerning, and shelter-in-place orders are so ubiquitous that the sheer number of people affected by this makes it extremely relevant.”

Marcus went on to hypothesize that the weight gain was likely related to a lack of physical activity and greater accessibility to food while working from home. Since working remotely may become the new norm after the pandemic is behind us, he suggests a focus on mitigating “work-from-home-related adverse health effects.”

A second survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) was conducted by the Harris poll, providing data for this year’s Stress in America survey. Information was gathered from Feb. 19, 2021, to Feb. 24, 2021, among 3,013 adults over 18 who lived in the U.S.

The data revealed that 61 percent of the adults surveyed reported experiencing an undesired weight change, either weight gain or loss, since the start of the pandemic. Overall, 42 percent told the surveyor they had gained more weight than intended, and the average gain was 29 pounds.

When the information was broken down by generation,the results revealed that of those surveyed who reported an undesired weight change, 48 percent of millennials had an average gain of 41 pounds. Baby boomers had reported the least amount gained, 16 pounds, and there wasn’t enough sample size of adults over age 76 to report the average amount of unwanted weight gain or loss.

Focus on Health Not Shame

Many health experts are concerned that this growing waistline trend will continue to rise, along with rates of obesity and the negative health effects associated—including poor outcomes from a COVID-19 infection. Others—including health websites such as Healthline—are encouraging people to accept their new weight and the health risks that go along with it with rationalizations such as:

  • Dieting is not without risk, as it can lead to eating disorders or nutritional deficiencies
  • Your body image struggles are a brain issue, not a body issue
  • We need a war on weight stigma, not “obesity”
  • You deserve to experience joy at every size—and you can
  • You shouldn’t be ashamed of those extra pounds

Weight is a sensitive topic, and shame is unnecessary and unhelpful. And while you can’t control the opinion of others and the unreasonable body image promoted by the modeling industry, you can take greater control over your health and wellness.

Unfortunately, governmental initiatives have not focused on the importance of proper nutrition and exercise, which are both foundational to health. Instead, the media and agencies have been focused on COVID-19 “cases,” mask mandates, social distancing, and lockdowns in preparation for massive vaccination programs.

Health and wellness have taken a back seat to living through chemistry. The researchers from the cohort study published in JAMA concluded:

“It is important to recognize the unintended health consequences SIP [shelter-in-place] 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.”

Strategies to Mitigate Weight Gain Also Help COVID Illness

There are specific health conditions that increase your risk of severe COVID-19, according to the CDC. Heart disease, obesity, severe obesity, Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cerebrovascular disease all make the list of health conditions that increase your risk of severe illness from the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Many of these are ameliorated by improving your metabolic inflexibility, which British cardiologist and author Dr. Aseem Malhotra believes is another factor that significantly increases your risk of severe illness. Malhotra recognized a clear link between metabolic inflexibility and worse outcomes from the virus when data were first coming in from China and Italy.

He talked about the link between insulin resistance and cytokine storms in our interview in October 2020. According to Malhotra, the good news is that these lifestyle factors can be modified in as little as 21 days by simply changing your diet.

This focus has been sorely missed from messaging during the pandemic. The central thesis of his book, “The 21-Day Immunity Plan: How to rapidly improve your metabolic health and resilience to fight infection,” is that we had a pandemic of metabolic inflexibility or metabolic ill-health. There are five primary parameters of metabolic ill health, which include having:

  • A large waist circumference
  • Prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes
  • Prehypertension or hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • High blood triglycerides
  • Low HDL cholesterol

Metabolic syndrome can triple the risk of a fatal COVID-19 infection. While mainstream media have reported that weight gain and the health conditions associated with it increase the risk of severe COVID, it is obvious that much of the focus is on surveillance and behavioral control. In response to the overwhelming attention on vaccinations instead of healthy lifestyle choices, Russian lawyer Jenia Finegan wrote on Twitter in March: “If this is the case, should we not have mandatory weight passports? Mandatory exercise and compulsory weight management programmes? Close all fast food outlets? No job for those refusing to lose weight? What else?”

Consider These Tips to Eat Healthy and Start Moving

The pandemic and subsequent lockdown changed many people’s activity levels. While it may not have seemed like much, walking up and down the stairs, going to meetings and grabbing coffee with a friend all meant being slightly more active than sitting in front of a computer at home all day.

Even those small steps can add up to big results. Added to a lack of activity is a rising level of anxiety, greater access to food just steps away in the kitchen, and increasing boredom.

If you need to lose weight, I recommend adopting a cyclical ketogenic diet, which involves radically limiting carbs (replacing them with healthy fats and moderate amounts of protein) until you’re close to or at your ideal weight, ultimately allowing your body to burn fat—not carbohydrates—as its primary fuel.

Consider using the accompanying tips to begin making healthier choices:

Create a daily routine. It’s important to get up at the same time each morning, and work to get seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night. Plan your meals for the day, including the timing of your meals and any healthy snacks.

Get dressed every day. Loose-fitting sweats or shorts make it easier to ignore weight gain.

Include exercise in your daily routine and avoid sitting for long periods. If you work at a computer, stand instead of sitting for the majority of your day. If your favorite gym is closed, consider other forms of activity such as walking, hiking, biking, dancing, or an exercise tape.

Incorporate a high-intensity interval training regime. Doing a quick but intense workout two to three times a day can raise your activity level.

Manage your stress. Unfortunately, many use food as comfort during times of stress. This only increases the difficulty in maintaining a healthy weight. Instead, consider exercise, yoga, meditation, connecting with friends or Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). You’ll find a library of demonstrations at this link, including EFT for stress and anxiety.

Be mindful. It’s easy to overeat and over-snack when you’re watching television or visiting with friends. Avoid eating or grabbing a snack while you’re driving, watching television, or working. When you’re busy, it’s also easy to underestimate how much you’re eating each day.

Change your routine. Steer clear of settings or situations you associate with overeating. After a stress-filled day, avoid the gallon of ice cream in the freezer or the six-pack in the refrigerator. Instead, consider meditating, a soak in a hot tub, or a walk with the dog.

Dr. Joseph Mercola is the founder of Mercola.com. An osteopathic physician, best-selling author, and recipient of multiple awards in the field of natural health, his primary vision is to change the modern health paradigm by providing people with a valuable resource to help them take control of their health. This article was originally published on Mercola.com.