MANHATTAN, Kan. – A Kansas State University nutrition specialist says a newly published study of early health impacts related to the COVID-19 pandemic is further testimony to the benefits of maintaining a healthy weight.
Sandy Procter said an important message from the research – which included more than 7,700 people from around the world – is that people who were considered obese experienced more negative impacts during the early stages of the pandemic.
During the early stages, when lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were more common, “those who were obese were found to be more likely to have gained weight,” Procter said. “And they were more likely to report increased stress during that time.”
The research, conducted by a team of international scientists, took place in April and May, 2020 and was peer-reviewed early last summer. The findings, and related articles, are published in the December issue of the journal, Obesity.
The study’s data compared people who were considered normal weight, overweight or obese. One portion of a related study – also in the December issue of Obesity – concluded that obesity doubles the mortality rate in patients hospitalized with COVID-19.
“If you can recall back to the early lockdown period, I truly feel like we were all kind of suspended,” Procter said. “Everything ground to a halt. Some of the initial health effects noted in COVID patients were more profound in at-risk groups that needed helpful support, especially persons with pre-existing conditions, including obesity. ”
For most, the lockdown period meant adjusting their daily routine, including when they sleep, go to work and, perhaps, exercise. Some did it better than others.
“There were 10% of the people in this study who found that their sleep quality improved,” Procter said. “And those who found themselves without long commutes found they had more time to exercise. It was maybe a change in how they did it, but there was more time in their day for healthful activities.”
Yet, she added, “some of those opportunities are not as available to everyone across the board.”
“So the effect of the stress caused by the pandemic has become noticeable among different parts of the population.”
The disruption in lifestyles did also provide another important reminder, according to Procter.
“If we’re smart, we’re going to keep a closer eye on our own self-care and realize that there may be many opportunities… to support our health,” she said. “But when it comes down to it, it really has a lot to do with personal awareness of our health and the variety of factors that we can address.”
It seems to be a valid point because stress, as Procter points out, won’t go away once the pandemic is in the rearview mirror. There will still be jobs to go to, school to attend, kids to take care of, and other responsibilities.
“My hope is that, ideally, the emphasis that communities are placing on having resources that support mental health and identifying situations where people are at risk –preventative health steps -- will become more commonplace,” Procter said, “and that there will be more resources and attention paid to those areas.”
Tips for healthy living are available online from K-State Research and Extension.