A survey based on feedback from Bluetooth-connected smart scales confirmed what other health experts are reporting—Americans are gaining weight during the COVID pandemic.
Gregory M. Marcus, senior author of the research letter, published his findings on March 22 in the peer-reviewed JAMA Network Open.
The data from smart scales suggest that adults under shelter-in-place orders gained more than a half-pound every 10 days. That’s nearly two pounds of weight gain a month during the COVID pandemic.
“We know that weight gain is a public health problem in the U.S. already, so anything making it worse is definitely concerning,” Marcus, who is a cardiologist and professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco, told the New York Times. “Shelter-in-place orders are so ubiquitous that the sheer number of people affected by this makes it extremely relevant.”
While the sample size is small, with less than 300 people involved, all participants were actively tracking their weight, and many were losing weight prior to the onset of the pandemic.
As Marcus observed, “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.”
Those findings coincide with the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America report, based on data from a February 2021 Harris Poll.
CBS News, reporting on that release, noted that of the approximately 3,000 Americans polled, 61% reported “undesired weight changes.”
Specifically, “42% of U.S. adults said they gained more weight than they intended, and of those, the amount they reported gaining averaged 29 pounds. Ten percent said they gained more than 50 pounds.”
The coverage noted, “More women (45%) reported weight gain than men (39%) but men reported a higher average gain at 37 pounds, compared to the women’s average of 22 pounds.”
It also pointed out that “weight gain that leads to obesity can put people at higher risk for serious illness from coronavirus,” though obesity is a risk category that’s allowed a broad cross-section of people to become eligible for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines during the early phases of national vaccination efforts.
The APA study also organized data by age group, with 48% of millennials reporting weight gain—its average weight gain of 41 pounds was the highest among all groups. A little more than half of Gen Z adults reported weight gain, averaging 28 pounds.
Dr. Angela Fitch, vice president of the Obesity Medicine Association, told CBS News she finds the numbers reported by millennials “striking.”
“As an obesity medicine specialist, I find it to be alarming, for sure. But you can see where it could be the case. I mean, it’s been a very challenging year, on multiple levels.”
In addition to weight changes, many people also said they experienced unwanted changes in sleep patterns and increased alcohol consumption. Sixty-seven percent said they have been sleeping more or less than desired since the pandemic started, and 23% reported drinking more alcohol to cope with their stress.
Fitch connected the dots between drinking more alcohol, higher calorie intake, and weight gain.
She observed that drinking, combined with “being home more, eating more out of stress, and stress in and of itself is a known factor in weight gain and obesity.”