How Much Weight Did We Really Gain During COVID Lockdown?

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Editor’s note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

A small helping of good news from the COVID-19 pandemic: Americans didn’t seem to fill all that time spent at home during the early months of the outbreak by filling their stomachs.

A study of over 100,000 adults found that the nation, as a whole, put on the same amount of weight as a result of stay-at-home orders than before the disease arrived. Some did gain weight, according to the researchers, but many others avoided the temptation to turn lockdowns into open season on their waistlines. The findings appeared Thursday in the journal JAMA Network Open.

“While many feel that the COVID stay-at-home orders led to large weight gains, our study found no evidence to support this concern,” says Rena R. Wing, PhD, director of the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center at the Miriam Hospital, in Providence, RI, who led the new study.

Thanks to a “set-point” that tends to keep body weight steady, “over a period of about a year, most people will maintain their regular weight,” she says.

Wing’s group used the electronic health records from 102,889 adults (mean age 56.4 years) treated at the University of Pittsburgh to gather information about weight, body mass index, race, and ethnicity. Of the total, 64% were women, 90% were non-Hispanic Whites, and 8% were Black.

Between January 2018 and March 2020, participants gained an average of 0.18 kg (about 0.4 lb). Between March 2020 and November 2021, after stay-at-home orders arrived, participants gained 0.22 kg, on average – a 0.04 kg increase, or about 1.4 ounces, roughly the weight of three empty cans of soda. The findings were consistent across all racial groups, not unlike previous findings looking at COVID-19 and weight gain, according to the researchers.

When the researchers looked at data collected in person, excluding telemedicine visits, the weight gains pre- and post-shutdowns were even slighter.

At least one earlier study showed larger weight gains because they used self-reported data, self-selected participation, or weight fluctuations over short periods of time. But Wing’s group used weights recorded in electronic medical records, which in theory are more reliable, they said.

But the results may not be generalized to all adults because the data were taken from people seeking medical care, who might have had other issues affecting their weight.

“These findings should help to mitigate public health concerns that COVID-19 shutdown orders led to weight gain in adults,” they wrote.

Sources

Rena R. Wing, PhD, director of the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center at the Miriam Hospital, in Providence, RI.

JAMA Network Open, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2793485.

Clinical Nutrition, https://www.clinicalnutritionjournal.com/article/S0261-5614(21)00207-7/fulltext.

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