COVID-19 Pandemic Caused Increased Stress, Weight Gain, Per Surveys

The stress levels and weight of Americans increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent survey and study.

Sixty-one percent of Americans experienced undesired weight changes—gains or losses—during the pandemic, according to an American Psychological Association survey, Stress in America, conducted in February.

Forty-two percent gained more weight than they intended with the average weight gain being 29 pounds. Ten percent reported gaining more than 50 pounds during that time.

For the 18 percent of Americans who said they lost more weight than they wanted to, the average amount of weight lost was 26 pounds.

Adults also reported unwanted changes in sleep and increased alcohol consumption. Two in three (67 percent) said they have been sleeping more or less than desired since the pandemic started. Nearly one in four adults (23 percent) reported drinking more alcohol to cope with their stress.

Hispanic adults were most likely to report undesired changes to physical activity levels (87 percent Hispanic vs. 84 percent Black, 81 percent Asian and 79 percent white) and weight (71 percent Hispanic vs. 64 percent Black, 58 percent white and 54 percent Asian) since the pandemic began. Black Americans were most likely to report feelings of concern about the future. More than half said they do not feel comfortable going back to living life like they used to before the pandemic (54 percent Black vs. 48 percent Hispanic, 45 percent Asian and 44 percent white) and that they feel uneasy about adjusting to in-person interaction once the pandemic ends (57 percent Black vs. 51 percent Asian, 50 percent Hispanic and 47 percent white).

A study published in the JAMA Network Open also found that Americans gained weight during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study involved 269 participants in the Health eHeart Study who agreed to report their weight measurements, resulting in a total of 7,444 weight measurements from Feb. 1, 2020, to June 1, 2020. Much of that time was during the stay-at-home orders that 45 states were under. It found participants gained 1.5 pounds per month during the early part of the pandemic.

Those who continued the same habits they adopted during the stay-at-home orders ended up gaining 20 pounds for the year, Dr. Gregory M. Marcus, senior author of the research letter, told the New York Times.

Most of the participants in this study shared that they had been losing weight prior to the stay-at-home orders.

“It’s reasonable to assume these individuals are more engaged with their health in general, and more disciplined and on top of things,” he told the Times. “That suggests we could be underestimating — that this is the tip of the iceberg.”