Americans gained more weight during the pandemic

Jennifer Geer

If you've put on a few pounds in the past year, you're not the only one. A new study suggests Americans gained close to 2 pounds per month in the past year.

When the world shut down, and we were all forced to stay at home, I vowed to run more. It started off great. Going outside was one of the few things I could do, and running provided the escape I needed from my new reality.

Where I went wrong was all the baking. I needed something to do, and I wanted to cheer my child up, who was now stuck at home doing virtual lessons and missing end-of-year activities. So I baked up a storm. I made sourdough bread from a starter gifted from a neighbor, banana bread, homemade pasta, croissants, bagels, soft pretzels, muffins, cookies, meringue pies; we even tested out an old-fashioned depression cake recipe. We tried it all. And it was all delicious.

Yes, it’s a lot of food, but I was sure as long as I keep running, I’d be okay. Then winter hit Chicagoland, and I lost all of my willpower to run in the cold and ice. But I kept on baking. And baking. And baking some more.

I don’t know if my regular pants still fit, because I haven’t needed to wear regular pants in a year. I wear leggings day in and day out. They are now my dress clothes. At night I switch them out for even comfier pajama bottoms.

I have some friends that have lost weight and become fitter over the past year. But I’m not one of them. And neither are a lot of Americans according to a recently published study.

About 1.5 extra pounds per month

It’s a small study published in the peer-reviewed JAMA Network Open. Using data from Bluetooth-connected smart scales of 269 Americans, the study found that participants from all over the nation had gained .38 kilograms every 10 days. Which translates to over 1.5 pounds per month.

Many of these people, according to Dr. Gregory M. Marcus, senior author of the research, had been losing weight before the pandemic lockdowns began. Unlike me, who has stopped weighing myself entirely, these people had dutifully tracked their weight throughout the year.

“It’s reasonable to assume these individuals are more engaged with their health in general, and more disciplined and on top of things,” Dr. Marcus said, “That suggests we could be underestimating…that this is the tip of the iceberg.”

Twenty pounds a year

At the rate of the weight gain for these individuals, they could easily have put on over 20 pounds in the past year. And these are probably the healthiest among us, and the most weight conscious.

Twenty pounds truly could be the “tip of the iceberg.”

Obesity contributes to the risk of severe Covid complications

To make matters worse, gaining weight is one of the worse things we can do for our health during this pandemic. Excess weight increases the risk of hospitalization and death.

As of last November, the CDC estimates that 30% of hospitalizations for Covid complications occurred in people that were obese.

Lockdowns made us sedentary

It makes sense if you think about the extent to which our lives changed. Instead of rushing to catch a bus or train, or walking from a work parking lot into the building, many of us trek from our bedroom to another room in the house to go to work these days. It doesn’t burn any calories to log into Zoom.

The food in our kitchens is readily available. Not to mention, stress-eating is a very normal human behavior. Add to that health clubs were shut down, and many public parks, beaches, swimming pools, and trails were also closed.

What can we do?

We can do all the healthy things we know are good for us such as get plenty of sleep, be mindful of our eating, and exercise daily. Other things, like managing stress through yoga and mediation can also be helpful in getting back to a healthy routine.

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Jennifer covers lifestyle content and local news for the Chicago area. New articles published each weekday.

Chicago, IL

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