Phil Lempert on Weight Changes During the Pandemic

APA’s latest survey of U.S. adults, conducted in late February 2021 by The Harris Poll, shows that a majority of adults (61%) experienced undesired weight changes – weight gain or loss – since the pandemic started, with 42% reporting they gained more weight than they intended. Of those, they gained an average of 29 pounds (the median amount gained was 15 pounds) and 10% said they gained more than 50 pounds. And the weight gain was across the generations and sexes: 39% of men gained an average of 37 lbs, while 45% of women gained 22 lbs. 52% of Gen Z gained 28 lbs. Millenials topped the list at 41% weight gain for 48% of the generation. 41% of Xers gained 21 lbs, 37% of boomers gained 16 lbs and those over 76 years old – 25% reported they gained weight. For the 18% of Americans who said they lost more weight than they wanted to, the average amount of weight lost was 26 pounds (median amount lost was 12 pounds). Adults also reported unwanted changes in sleep and increased alcohol consumption. Two in 3 (67%) said they have been sleeping more or less than desired since the pandemic started. Nearly 1 in 4 adults (23%) reported drinking more alcohol to cope with their stress.

“We’ve been concerned throughout this pandemic about the level of prolonged stress, exacerbated by the grief, trauma and isolation that Americans are experiencing. This survey reveals a secondary crisis that is likely to have persistent, serious mental and physical health consequences for years to come,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr, PhD, APA’s chief executive officer. “Health and policy leaders must come together quickly to provide additional behavioral health supports as part of any national recovery plan.”

The pandemic has taken a particularly heavy toll on parents of children under 18. While slightly more than 3 in 10 adults (31%) reported their mental health has worsened compared with before the pandemic, nearly half of mothers who still have children home for remote learning (47%) reported their mental health has worsened; 30% of fathers who still have children home said the same. Parents were more likely than those without children to have received treatment from a mental health professional (32% vs. 12%) and to have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder since the coronavirus pandemic began (24% vs. 9%). More than half of fathers (reported gaining weight, and nearly half said they are drinking more alcohol to cope with stress. Most alarming is that those people that we have deemed as ‘essential workers ‘were more than twice as likely as adults who are not essential workers to have received treatment from a mental health professional and to have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder since the coronavirus pandemic started (25% vs. 9%). It’s a report that every supermarket CEO and HR head needs to read before they pull back hazard pay or worse – close stores in areas that are mandating hazard pay or $15 an hour pay increases.

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