As expected, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected people’s weight as well, among all the other things! Of course, some have taken this opportunity to focus more on their health but for most, the stress of losing jobs and being forced to live a more sedentary life than usual, has meant weight gain too, unfortunately.
According to some new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 American states have registered obesity rates of 35% or higher since the pandemic started.
This means that four new states have joined this list only in the last year – namely Iowa, Texas, Delaware, and Ohio.
This data only confirms what other recent studies have also suggested – that many Americans are struggling with weight gain as a result of the pandemic promoting sedentary behavior, but also because of stress and income loss, the latter of which makes purchasing healthy food more difficult.
Sadly these rates have disproportionately affected racial minorities more.
And those rates are still rising visibly faster among racial minorities.
Nadine Gracia, a physician and the president and CEO of Trust for America’s Health, states that “Obesity continues to still be a significant public health crisis,” adding that the increase in obesity rates is worse amongst children as well!
Obesity has been a rising issue for the past decade, and the pandemic has only exacerbated this unfortunate trend.
After all, only 10 years ago, in 2011, there hadn’t yet been one American state to reach the 35% obesity threshold.
Now, as mentioned before, the number of states included on that list has reached no less than 16 and a handful of them are close to 40%!
The data released by CDC is based on a survey of citizens reporting their height and weight willingly so it’s as accurate as it can be.
Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, leading obesity researcher at Harvard Medical School, explains that “When patients are self-reporting or individuals are self-reporting their weight, they actually tend to underreport. So I believe that this report will actually under-capture the degree of obesity in the U.S.”
She also pointed out that the increase of obesity amongst the American population is yet to be recognized adequately as the disease it is, which is why it still goes generally unrecognized.
The Harvard researcher went on to mention that she would not be surprised if this is not going to change much for the better, especially while the world is busy dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When we look at the factors that play a role in rising obesity, we know stress is one of them,” she stated, explaining that stress does not only affect eating patterns and working out.
In reality, it has a biological effect as well, prompting the body to naturally store more fat regardless of anyone’s lifestyle and diet.
This comes after a separate research from March also suggested that obesity rates have increased amid the pandemic.
This was supported by an American Psychological Association survey which found that 42% of Americans have gained 29 pounds on average.
The trend of weight gain has been the same among young children as well, especially between ages 5 to 11.
In this age group specifically, obesity rates have increased from 36.2% to 45.7% since the pandemic started.
Not only has the pandemic added to the obesity epidemic, but extreme weight gain also tends to make people more vulnerable to the virus, increasing hospitalization and therefore affecting the medical system and the COVID-19 spread in general.
A separate CDC survey from 2017-2018 exposed the way racial minorities are more impacted by obesity in America.
It showed that nearly half of Black people and 57% of Black women deal with obesity.
Amongst the Latino population, the rate is almost 45%, while among white adults, it is 42%.
On the other hand, the rates are lowest among Asian adults, with only 17% being affected.
Dr. Elena Rios, the president and CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association, pointed out that more minorities have been affected by the economic problems stemming from the COVID-19 crisis due to the fact that they represent the majority of the essential workforce and low-income population.
Gracia suggested some solutions as well, saying that larger investments in healthy school meals and more access to recreation are needed.
“Being able to access those services is really important to receiving preventative services, counseling and supports to address obesity.”
Similarly, Rios also suggested that the lack of local healthy food options and access to health care and insurance have greatly affected people’s health in a negative way and continue to do so.
“Our communities do not get the messages that you are going to have diabetes earlier, you are going to have heart disease earlier in life and by the time you are in your 30s and 40s, you are going to be on dialysis. That is the trend that is happening in our communities.”
Meanwhile, Tammy Boyd, chief policy officer of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, noted that spreading awareness about obesity in a way that resonates with most people is hard due to the stigma that surrounds it.
However, Boyd stressed that it is really important for people to treat obesity as a health issue and avoid stigmatizing it.