At the Mirror

Pandemic Weight Gain? Not So Fast

You might think that weight gain during the pandemic is simply a matter of fact. The editor of the Harvard Health Letter tells us it’s widespread. Speculation started early in the pandemic. With everyone cooped up at home, people spoke with certainty and derision about the quarantine 15. Or pandemic pounds. One paper even proclaimed a covibesity pandemic. But it turns out not to be so clear that weight gain was a unique feature of the COVID-19 pandemic across the board.

In fact a new study of millions patient records in the U.S. finds nothing at all in the way of unusual weight gain during the pandemic.

Some Gained, Some Lost

Chris Alban, Xander Posner, Brad Fox, and Lily Rubin-Miller have just published data from many millions of patients in the Epic Systems medical records. They found in this sample of adults 19 and older, some people gained weight and some people lost it during the pandemic. But the patterns of weight gain and loss were essentially the same as they were before the pandemic.

Weight Change During the Pandemic

Overall, the trend was for people to gain about a pound in the period between March 13, 2020 (the date of the national emergency declaration) and March a year later. This is virtually identical to the trend in the year before the pandemic.

When Donna Ryan spoke at the YWM2021 convention yesterday, she expressed it well:

“Did everyone gain weight during the pandemic? No, but some did”

A Greater Impact on Children

Other studies provide insights on children and youth. They tell a different story. It seems that weight gain might have been an important factor for them. But the effect was likely different for children in different circumstances. A patient records study from Philadelphia told us that weight gain during the pandemic meant a rise in obesity for young people – especially among Black and Hispanic youth. In families with economic disadvantages, the impact was greatest.

This may fuel further widening in health disparities – something nobody wants to see.

Separating Facts from Speculation

Certainly, it made sense to wonder what the impact of pandemic restrictions would be on obesity prevalence and health. We’re still learning the facts. Even this large patient records study from Epic Systems data is only part of the picture. NHANES will give us a more complete and representative picture.

Until then, we would do well to stick with facts and distinguish them from speculation. Generalizations about obesity mislead us with disturbing frequency.

Click here for more details on the study of Epic patient records and here for additional perspective.

At the Mirror, painting by Edgar Degas / WikiArt

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July 19, 2021

One Response to “Pandemic Weight Gain? Not So Fast”

  1. July 19, 2021 at 7:07 am, Allen Browne said:

    Bias, stigma, and lack of knowledge about obesity as a disease pops up again. Much work to do.