Lockdown Breakfast

The Untidy Reality of Living Larger in a Lockdown

A tidy narrative attracts the human mind. When they ring true, generalizations are seductive. They wipe away the complex mess of real life. For example, the untidy reality of living through the pandemic lockdown leaves us eager to make sense of it. So a new paper describing a global survey of health behaviors in the lockdown is especially welcome. Maybe it can help us figure out what this pandemic and its restrictions are doing to us.

The effects seem to be especially large for people living with obesity. For one thing, anxiety is greater. For another, self-reported weight gain is more common. But self-reported dietary behaviors became healthier for people with obesity in the lockdown. That’s right. People living with obesity in the pandemic reported bigger improvements in their eating behaviors than everyone else.

Finally, across the board people tended to become more sedentary. This was equally true whether they were living with obesity or not.

Generalizations Both Explain and Obscure Reality

These generalizations come from research by Emily Flanagan and colleagues at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. They surveyed 7,753 people online from all over the world in April – at the height of the first lockdown. It’s important because it provides a glimpse of the impact this pandemic might be having on our mental and behavioral health. Pennington’s John Kirwan says:

“This study is the first to survey thousands of people across the globe on lifestyle behavior changes in response to stay-at-home orders.”

Generalizations, though, come at a cost. They tempt us to gloss over the reality that this pandemic has very complex effects. Many people – in fact, most – did not gain weight. While the mean scores for healthful eating improved, plenty of people reported less healthy dietary behaviors in the pandemic. In fact, more people reported slipping than improving.

This is a rich collection of data and it’s very helpful. However, we would do well to get beyond the generalizations. There is great diversity in how this pandemic is affecting us. Different people are struggling in different ways. The better we understand that diversity of experiences, the better we can adapt.

Click here for the study, here and here for further perspective. For yet another study of the mental health in the pandemic, we recommend this new study by Michelle Cardell and colleagues.

Lockdown Breakfast, photograph © Neil Moralee / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


October 24, 2020