Various studies deep dive into the health effects of COVID-19. But, a new study takes up a different perspective and shows how the lifestyle changes during the pandemic have affected our health. The medical journal, Obesity showcases a new study. Obese people have become more sedent, which has lead to significant weight gain and anxiety. Moreover, their physical activity has become not existent during the times of the pandemic.
The study also gave a positive insight. People are taking healthy diets due to the whole social distancing regime.
More than a million people have lost their lives to the COVID-19 pandemic till now. The disease got the status of a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Hence, the six months that followed were largely behind closed doors.
The Pandemic Lockdown
Every country on the face of the Earth went into a lockdown. The US too implemented various measures across different states. The social distancing and closure protocols were effective as they did slow down the spread. However, little was known about other health implications of these measures.
There was a spike in the loneliness related cases during the pandemic. It was largely due to the closures of gyms, restaurants, and workplaces. Not only did the people become lonely, but also contracted anxiety and stress.
Stress has its roots and may be caused by anxiety about well-being, loss of support, finances, or unemployment. Loss of sleep or altered sleeping patterns also cause stress. In addition to these, changed eating habits, concentration issues, mental health problems, and use and abuse of drugs all relate to stress.
Stress may also lead to weight gain. Researchers at Louisiana State University’s (LSU’s) Pennington Biomedical Research Center conducted an online global survey study. The study aimed to quantify changes in physical activity, sedentary behaviors, sleep, mental health, and dietary habits in adults. The population of the study was aged 18 and older. The data gave an insight into life before and during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 12,000 Facebook users accessed the survey. Of these, 7,753 surveys became part of the in-depth analysis.
The participants were mostly from the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. Most participants were white, female, and came from a two-person household. The average age of the participants came out as 51.
Only 32% of them were healthy. Another 32% were overweight and an alarming 34% were obese. The conclusion from the survey demonstrated significant lifestyle changes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Altered COVID-19 Pandemic Lifestyle
Before the pandemic people ate more at the restaurant than at home. Four times or more weekly restaurant visits were cut by 10% during the lockdown. Unsurprisingly, cooking at home six or more times per week increased by 26%.
21% of the participants perceive that they are eating healthy during the lockdown. Conversely, 36% think that they resort to unhealthy eating. About 44% report an increase in unhealthful snacking. Whereas healthful snacking numbers have gone up and 26% of people think they do healthful snacking during the lockdown.
The unhealthful eating habits are linked with trouble falling asleep, decreased physical activity, increased sedentary habits, and nearly double the anxiety levels as compared to those who eat healthily.
Sedentary leisure activities have gone up by 21 minutes on weekdays. On weekends, people used to relax even before the pandemic. So, the sedentary behaviors have gone up by 17 minutes on weekends. There is a decrease in physical activity of 18 minutes per week. The fall is much more significant in terms of metabolic equivalents. A whopping 112 minutes per week decrease is seen after adjusting for exercise intensity.
The results also show that sleep onset and wake time went up by 42 minutes and 59 minutes, respectively. In addition to that, there are about 44% of cases that report worse sleep quality. On the other hand, 10% experienced improved sleep quality during the pandemic.
Health concern has gone up and as many as 75% of the participants voice concerns about their health. This number goes up to 87.5% if people who show concern for their family members’ health are also included. During the COVID-19 pandemic, symptomatic anxiety among the population was 14% higher than it was before the pandemic.
The Analysis of COVID-19 Pandemic Lifestyle Study
The study results demonstrated incredibly disproportionate changes in health behaviors in individuals with obesity that stemmed from COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.
Dr. Leanne Redman thinks that people with obesity improved their diets the most. But, they also experienced the sharpest declines in mental health and the highest incidence of weight gain. Dr. Leanne Redman serves as an associate executive director for Scientific Education at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
24% of the obese participants had symptomatic anxiety. On the other hand, 17% of individuals with a healthy weight had anxiety. Similarly, 17% of overweight ones had anxiety. However, symptomatic anxiety was similar among all three groups before the pandemic.
33% of individuals with obesity gained even more weight during the COVID-19 pandemic. 25% healthy-weight and 21% overweight individuals also put up weight.
The change in physical activity levels was similar across all the groups. Obese individuals also had steep increases in sleep onset as compared to the people in the other two groups. Surprisingly, wake time remained the same.
Understanding the impact
According to Dr. John Kirwan, the study is the first to survey thousands of people across the globe on lifestyle behavior changes in response to stay-at-home orders.
He asserts that the study showcases how chronic diseases like obesity affect our health beyond the physical level. Dr. Kirwan is the executive director of LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
Dr. Emily Flanagan, the author of the study, thinks that GPs should alter the way they deal with obese individuals.
She suggests making mental health screenings more frequent during and following the COVID-19 pandemic. She believes that staying in contact with patients with the help of remote visits and telehealth may help prevent irreversible changes to health that the pandemic may cause.
These virtual visits alleviate the concerns of both the patients and the doctors about their personal safety during the times of the pandemic.
The use of Facebook to conduct the study poses a significant limitation due to the possible introduction of recall bias. The study also focused on older white adult women as the average age was around 51. Moreover, the participants were mostly from countries with a similar lifestyle and geographic locations.