Percentage changes in obesity and obesity-related risk factors during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the period 2019 to pre-pandemic 2020. Source: Author’s calculations using data from 2011-2020 Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System. Credit: Brandon J. Restrepo, PhD
More Americans weighed in as overweight during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic than in the previous year. A new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine presents evidence from a large, nationally representative study that documents this trend and helps explain behavioral changes that led to widespread weight gain in 2020.
“Previous studies present evidence that intra-pandemic changes in risky diet and other health-related behaviors are likely to have contributed to the rapid increase in body weight during this period. Adults who reported weight gain also reported more frequent snacks and alcohol intake; increased eating in response to vision, odor and stress; and reduced physical activity, “explained lead investigator Brandon J. Restrepo, Ph.D., U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Food Economics Division – Diet, Safety and Health Economics Branch, Washington, DC , USA
Adult obesity in the United States was elevated and trending upward before the COVID-19 pandemic. While several studies have reported small and relatively homogeneous online studies that track weight gain in the US adult population during the initial pandemic period, this study is the first to use data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a larger, nationally representative study of the American adult population. It contains data on health outcomes, health-related risk behaviors, preventive services, and chronic medical conditions.
To estimate the overall changes in the prevalence of obesity in adults and four obesity-related risk factors during the COVID-19 pandemic, the analysis of the BRFSS data used linear regression models that control age, gender, race / ethnicity, education, household income, marriage . status, number of children, survey year indicators and state of residence indicators.
According to the analysis of more than 3.5 million American adults (20 years and older) from BRFSS 2011-2020, obesity was 3% more prevalent during the year beginning March 2020 compared to the period 2019 to the pre-pandemic 2020. The study found also statistically significant changes among U.S. adults in four obesity-related risk factors during the COVID-19 pandemic: exercise participation, sleep duration, alcohol consumption, and cigarette smoking.
While exercise participation and sleep duration were higher by 4.4% and 1.5%, respectively, the number of days on which alcohol was consumed was 2.7% higher and the cigarette smoking prevalence was lower by 4%. The overall increases in exercise and sleep were not sufficient to offset the effect of other behaviors, resulting in an average increase of 0.6% in the body mass index during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although smoking cessation is a healthy step, it is known to cause some weight gain.
“Our findings, which are broadly consistent with what previous studies have found using smaller and less representative samples, provide additional insights that can serve to inform politicians about the state of the American adult and obesity epidemic. -related risk factors, “noted Dr. Restrepo and added: “Because obesity affects some adults more than others, it would be helpful to explore the changes in the number of adult obesity further by demographic subgroup and socioeconomic status.”
Nearly half of Americans gained weight in the first year of the pandemic More information: Obesity prevalence among American adults during the COVID-19 pandemic, American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2022). DOI: 10.1016 / j.amepre.2022.01.012
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