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Study: Poor Mental Health Caused Weight Gain During Pandemic


A recent study out of Dallas found a correlation between obesity and declining mental health. | Image by Shutterstock

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A recent study out of Dallas found a correlation between obesity and declining mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study, led by Jaime Almandoz, M.D., weight management and metabolism specialist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, found nearly one-third of people with obesity gained more than 5% of their body weight in the first year of the pandemic.

People with obesity are at greater risk of dying or experiencing severe illness as a result of COVID-19, according to the CDC.

Almandoz and his fellow researchers found that this increased risk likely led to greater anxiety among obese adults. They concluded that this increased anxiety was the most significant factor contributing to their substantial weight gain.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a fascinating model for individual and social stress and showed that changes in mental health can really preclude people from maintaining a healthy body weight,” he said.

From March 2021 to November 2021, the study surveyed over 400 adults who were clients of three separate obesity practices. The aim was to “examine the relationships between body weight changes, health behaviors, and mental health in adults with obesity” throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The online surveys asked subjects “what changes occurred to their body weight, lifestyle factors, and physical and mental health from the beginning of the pandemic (March 2020) to the present.”

About 80% of those surveyed “reported difficulties with weight management.” Roughly one-third of the subjects, already suffering from obesity, gained more than 5% of their body weight in the first year, with one-seventh gaining an additional 10%.

During the pandemic, patients gained an average of an additional 4.3% of their body weight.

Among those surveyed, the most significant self-reported reasons for difficulty with weight management were stress (85%), anxiety (72%), boredom (62%), and depression (56%).

Additionally, those who reported the highest levels of anxiety, depression, and stress gained the most weight. Researchers speculated that people of a lower socioeconomic status likely experienced even more stress and consequently gained even more weight.

“It’s not just about telling people to eat less and move more,” Almandoz said. “There’s a mental health aspect that has to be integrated into treating the whole person as well.”

When studying the impact of stay-at-home orders on the mental health and behaviors of their obese patients, researchers found that 70% of patients struggled even more with weight loss during the lockdowns, with many reporting less exercise and more stress-related eating.

A prior study cited by Almandoz found that 48% of adults in the United States gained weight during the pandemic.

Dallas-Fort Worth suffers severely from the obesity epidemic, being the 19th most obese city in the United States, as found by another study published earlier this year.

To address this problem, The Dallas Express recently interviewed a local dietitian to learn the causes of this issue and what can be done to solve it.

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1 month ago

Degarmo assumes that fear over the illness caused the anxiety and weight gain. Almandoz did not make that jump. I would argue job insecurity and changing job demands played more of a role than anything in people’s anxiety level. That might be why socioeconomic status is related to anxiety levels. It would be interesting to investigate the causes of the reported anxiety as interventions are discussed. It is one thing to tell people to eat healthier food and another to afford it in inflationary periods.