The Margin: ‘The Covid 15?’ If only — this is how much weight the average person actually gained during the pandemic


If only it was just the “quarantine 15.” 

Most people have struggled to maintain their weight during the pandemic, with 61% of American adults reporting undesired weight gain or loss since the coronavirus outbreak. That’s according to a new American Psychological Association (APA) survey of more than 3,000 people released a year to the day since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. 

Prior to the pandemic, about four in 10 Americans (some 93.3 million adults) were already obese, according to the CDC. And according to the APA’s latest “Stress in America” report, more than two in five of the surveyed adults (42%) revealed that they gained more weight than they intended over the past 12 months. And they put on 29 pounds, on average.  

In fact, one in 10 said they gained more than 50 pounds, which the APA notes is a textbook sign that people are struggling to cope with mental-health challenges. (Indeed, the report also found that one in three Americans is sleeping less during the pandemic, and more than half of parents said the level of stress in their lives has increased.) 

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A recent WebMD poll of more than 1,000 readers also revealed that more than half (54%) of respondents said that they’d gained weight “due to COVID restrictions” disrupting their health routines. Some 54% reported that they were exercising less, and 68% admitted that they were snacking more. 

Even Goop wellness guru Gwyneth Paltrow revealed in a recent virtual event that she gained 14 pounds over the course of nine months. “I felt like my wine and my pasta and biscuits and crackers and cheese were getting me through,” she said. (In true Hollywood form, however, she has already lost the weight.) 

And this has led to terms like “the Covid 15” trending as people commiserate about turning to alcohol and comfort food during the pandemic online, harking back to the “Freshman 15” that some students gain when they first get to college. 

These extra pounds are troubling, however, especially during a worldwide health crisis.  The National Institutes of Health warns that such significant weight gain poses serious long-term health risks. People who put on more than 11 pounds are at higher risk of developing coronary heart disease and Type II diabetes, for example, while those who gain more than 25 pounds are put at higher risk of stroke.

And in a sick twist, this extra weight that people have gained as a result of the pandemic can actually make them more susceptible to COVID-19. Having obesity increases the risk of severe illness from COVID-19, the CDC reports, and people who are overweight may also be at increased risk. Having obesity may also triple the risk of COVID-19 hospitalization. And as one’s body-mass index (BMI) increases, their risk of death from COVID-19 also increases. 

That’s why some states like New York and Illinois have listed obesity among the qualifying comorbidities that can allow adults under 60 or 65 to get one of the COVID-19 vaccines.

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Grown-ups aren’t the only ones with growing waistlines as the country has sheltered-in-place, gyms have closed, and some people have turned to eating comfort foods or consuming more alcohol to cope with the stress of the pandemic, losing their jobs, or last year’s contentious election cycle.

Pediatricians are warning that the disruption of in-person schooling, sports and other activities is causing children to gain weight, too.

And veterinarians report that pets are getting pudgy. Banfield Pet Hospital, the nation’s largest general veterinary practice with hospitals in 42 states, surveyed almost 1,000 dog and cat owners in October 2020. Some 42% of pet parents admitted that their pets had gained weight during quarantine, which was up from 33% in May, The Wall Street Journal reported.

So what can you do? 

MarketWatch previously spoke with several leaders in the field of obesity research and prevention who reviewed the science surrounding weight gain and loss to explain what to eat and what to avoid; how much exercise you need and which workouts work best; as well as their tips for making these moves a part of your daily routine. 

From the archives: Your no B.S. guide to losing weight in the New Year

And don’t miss: How to protect your mental health and fight ‘COVID fatigue’ this winter 

Mental health experts have also shared their coping strategies to reduce feelings of existential dread; connect with family and friends from a distance; and find ways to be kind to yourself and find joy, even inside your bubble. 

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