As we move into the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, waistlines are widening, obesity rates are soaring and health costs keep climbing, according to the CDC. In the same way that no one would choose to live through a pandemic, no one chooses to be overweight, which is why everyone should be treated with empathy during trying times and provided solutions to help them overcome.
Today in the United States, 36.5 percent of adults are obese, and another 32.5 percent are overweight. In all, more than two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese. While obesity rates have been rising for more than a decade, the CDCsays the pandemic spurred a sharp increase in the number of obese and overweight Americans.
COVID-19 and its impact on obesity
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, gyms closed and workers stopped taking the office stairs. The pandemic affected food choices too. People ate more of what was quick and available – and not always healthy – or consumed more alcohol and other high-calorie drinks. Working from home meant people were close to the refrigerator during a long and fairly sedentary day.
A survey of several thousand people by the American Psychological Association (APA) showed that 42 percent reported gaining weight during the pandemic. The average weight gain they claimed was 29 pounds and the median weight gain was 15 pounds. These findings were confirmed by another far different source: at the height of the pandemic, clothing retailer Levi Strauss revealed that about 25 percent of people had a significant increase in both their waist size and clothing size.
Obesity weakens the immune system, taxes hearts and decreases lung capacity. Just being overweight may raise the risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19. The CDC warns that obesity significantly raises the risk of hospitalization or dying from COVID-19 – another tragic connection between the two pandemics.
Obesity-related health risks
While losing weight and keeping it off can be difficult, the good news is that plan sponsors have new ways to support members who are fighting to stave off weight gain. A large number of people may not be able to lose weight and keep it off without medical help. My recent presentation “When Two Pandemics Collide” explores how obesity drives multiple conditions – from Type 2 diabetes to low back pain and cancer. Beyond diet and exercise, doctors can now prescribe appetite-suppressing drugs, weight-loss surgery and other effective treatments.
As a nation, we are at the epicenter of an obesity epidemic that has been accelerated by COVID-19. Excess weight negatively affects every organ system in the body. If scientists can discover new ways to help people lose weight, it may be the one bright spot in a long and deadly pandemic.