Pandemic pounds add to U.S. obesity numbers

Pandemic pounds add to U.S. obesity numbers

We may have endured more than two years of a global pandemic, but our waistlines haven’t gone unscathed.

A new study offers evidence from a large, nationally representative survey that more Americans weighed in as obese during the first year of COVID-19 than did the year before the pandemic began.

Long before the virus made itself widely known in the United States in March 2020, adult obesity was on the rise. But clearly the stress of lockdowns, lost jobs, cabin fever and frayed nerves didn’t help.

The U.S.  Department of Agriculture’s study used data from more than 3.5 million adults to determine that obesity was 3% more prevalent during the year that began March 2020 than it was the year before.

The analysis of data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System noted statistically significant changes in four obesity-related risk factors during the pandemic: exercise participation, sleep duration, alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking.

It’s a mixed bag: We exercised more and slept longer, and we smoked fewer cigarettes. All good things. But the number of days we drank alcohol was 2.7% higher the year the pandemic began compared with the previous year. Not so good.

Our better exercise (even without gyms!) and sleep weren’t enough to offset other factors, notably the extra beer and wine that many leaned upon to reduce stress. And the result was an average 0.6% rise in body mass index across the country.

Perhaps we’ll be lucky enough to keep the best of our pandemic habits, such as the better sleep, less smoking and more exercise, and jettison the bad ones, finding other ways to unwind without popping a top or uncorking a bottle.

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