The past year, Americans watched COVID-19 cases increase. Over half of Americans said their weight also went up this year.
People of all ages spend more time in their homes these days. Online classes and virtual work can confine someone to a chair and desk all day when they previously had more physical activity opportunities.
A recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association has shown that 61 percent of American adults surveyed reported undesired weight gain within the past year. The average weight gain for U.S. adults was 29 pounds.
In addition, 18 percent of participants reported they experienced undesired weight loss.
Another study, through the JAMA Network Open, used Bluetooth technology to track the weight gain and loss in 269 participants.
“Participants experienced steady weight gain at a rate of 0.27 kg every 10 days, irrespective of geographic location or comorbidities," the report read. "These results translate into approximately 1.5 lbs of weight gain every month."
The COVID-19 pandemic has produced stay-at-home orders and isolation periods, which often limit peoples’ ability to exercise regularly. Gyms, sports leagues and workout classes were put on hold to ensure safety protocols were enforced.
Jacob Meyer is an assistant professor in Iowa State University's kinesiology department. Meyer is the director of the Wellbeing and Exercise Laboratory at the university and is currently leading the COVID-19 and Wellbeing Survey, comprised of over 3,000 participants.
“What we saw was a lot of people were expressing they were reducing their exercise potentially because they couldn’t go to their gym or their sports leagues were shut down,” Meyer said. “That ended up resulting in people reporting they were being much less active while sitting, using screens for more time. Those things are certainly associated with less energy expenditure.”
The COVID-19 and Wellbeing Survey research began toward the beginning of the pandemic. Meyer said people report their exercise time, screen time and sitting time. The participants also report the state of their mental health.
“We found that, in particular, people who reduce their exercise, or who increase their screen time, had worse depression, stress, loneliness, et cetera,” Meyer said.
The American Psychological Association survey showed that 52 percent of Gen Z adults aged 18-24 reported undesired weight gain during the pandemic. College students who fall into that group have a particular set of experiences with weight gain.
Andrew O’Neill is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in psychology and informatics. He said when lockdowns and pandemic protocols began, he was inspired to exercise even more.
“It kind of just changed the way I approached working out [...] It gave me an opportunity to focus on my diet too,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill said he got creative with his regular workout routine when gyms closed down. He prioritized exercise because it had a positive effect on his mental health as well.
“I think I definitely do better mentally if I’m able to work out on a regular basis,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill also said mindset and routine are essential when it comes to exercise.
“Come up with a plan," he said. "Don’t just say you’re going to work out [...] Have a weekly routine of what your workouts are going to look like.”