One of the many unforeseen consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lock-downs is proof of widespread weight gain. The populations where this increase has been seen has also shown increased food shopping and alcohol sales, according to a research team who has termed this weight gain phenomenon “Covibesity” (Khan & Smith, 2020).
Based on observations from social media during the lockdown phase, it seemed as though I could segment my family and friends into one of two groups, which I can imagine would be linked to the increased food shopping and alcohol sales research above. One group was adapting to working from home, balancing work and home life responsibilities, raising and potentially homeschooling children while trying to accomplish work-related obligations. Based on my observations, this group often began relying on delivery services for groceries and often for take-out because the stress of their day made dinner to be an especially stressful feat.
On the other hand, the family and friends who were laid off, furloughed, or let go from their jobs during the pandemic often posted about other activities. With their free time, I saw a lot of people taking on new endeavors like cooking new things (I attempted Salmon En Croute during the first lockdown), discovering new hobbies or a renewed passion for old ones, but I feel this group was in the minority. The rest of this group was struggling with depression from lack of socialization or the loss of employment and were desperately trying to pay bills. Some were couch-bound, binge-watching Netflix, while others were forced to take any odd-job they could in an attempt to keep afloat. Either way, many were also resorting to take-out or turning to coping mechanisms like alcohol.
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? Do you identify with one of these groups? Can you see your friends and family dealing with similar scenarios?
These types of stressors brought on by the behavioral, social, and environmental changes brought on by COVID, which have all contributed to this Covibesity phenomenon (Khan & Smith, 2020).
One study discovered that participants who reported weight gain of between 5 and 10 pounds also reported eating in response to stress, eating in response to sight or smell (potentially impacted by some of the social media posts I mentioned previously), and increased snacking after dinner (Zeigler et. al, 2020). This study found that reported amounts of sleep and physical activity also correlated with those reporting weight gain (Zeigler et. al, 2020).
A third study specifically considered peak lockdown (March – May) and post-lockdown September/October) in their research (Bhutani et al., 2021). 40 percent of participants reported peak-lockdown weight gain with 18 reporting weight loss, potentially pointing to different coping mechanisms during lockdown (Bhutani et al., 2021). Weight gainers reported increased processed food intake, snacking, and stress, combined with reduced activity and less craving control (Bhutani et. al., 2021). Out of participants who reported a weight gain of more than five pounds, over one-third repeated continued weight gain post-lockdown and 28 percent reported maintaining their peak lockdown weight gain (Bhutani et. al., 2021). These participants reported continued processed food intake, reduced craving control, and increased stress during post-lockdown, in addition to an increase in food take-out (Bhutani et al., 2021).
All of this research points to a fairly significant weight gain trend throughout the pandemic and, unfortunately, suggests that many weight gainers have continued their risky diet behaviors post-lockdown. Given how long it takes new habits to form, the lockdown period was plenty of time for people to develop some poor habits that will take effort to reverse. The biggest catalyst for change, however, begins with recognition of the problem.
Perhaps you relate to this or perhaps you can share this blog with someone who does. If you or someone you know is able to identify a change in habits that may have led to weight gain, just that acknowledgement can be the first step in working towards reversing those changes and getting back to a pre-COVID weight.
Bhutani, S., vanDellen, M.R., & Cooper, J.A. (2021). Longitudinal Weight Gain and Related Risk Behaviors during the
COVID-19 Pandemic in Adults in the US. Nutrients 13(2), 671. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13020671
Khan, M. & Smith, J. E. M. (2020). “Covibesity,” a new pandemic. Obesity Medicine, 19.
Zeigler, Z., Forbes, B., Lopez, B., Pedersen, G., Welty, J., Deyo, Alyssa, & Kerekes, M. (2020). Self-quarantine and
weight gain related risk factors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Obesity Research & Clinical Practice 14(3),