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WebMD Poll: Many Report Weight Gain During Shutdown

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Editor’s note: This story was updated May 19, 2020 to include new poll results from WebMD international readers.

May 18, 2020 -- Many readers say they have gained weight during stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19, two new WebMD polls find.

Among the 1,012 U.S. WebMD readers questioned, about 47% of women said they gained weight “due to COVID restrictions.” About 22% of men said they gained weight.

In a separate poll of 900 international WebMD readers, they also reported weight gain. But it was more common in men, with 55% reporting they had put on pounds compared to 34% of women.

Under many statewide restrictions in the U.S., people weren’t able to leave the house, and gyms were closed. Outside recreation areas, such as parks, trails, and greenspaces, were closed as well. Plus, parents took care of kids at home, and workers spent hours on the computer while teleworking. Similar shutdowns have taken place worldwide due to the pandemic.

The U.S. poll confirms national reports from the American Heart Association and Mayo Clinic. People have posted jokes on social media about inevitable weight gain, saying they’ve stacked on the “Quarantine 15” during stay-at-home guidelines.

Among U.S. readers who calculated the pounds:

  • 15% said they gained 1-3 pounds.
  • 34% said they gained 4-6 pounds.
  • 26% said they gained 7-9 pounds.
  • 21% said they gained 10-20 pounds.
  • 4% said they gained 21 pounds or more.

WebMD readers in the U.S. cited a number of reasons for the weight gain. About 72% reported a lack of exercise. About 70% said they’ve been stress eating. An overwhelming 59% said both a lack of exercise and stress eating were a problem, and 21% attributed it to “extra alcohol consumption.” The U.S. reader poll was conducted May 17.

Among international readers, 73% cited lack of exercise, 35% stress eating, and 17% to drinking more alcohol. The international reader poll was conducted May 18.

“That’s a significant amount of weight gain in a relatively short period of time. Obviously, obesity and overweight were already a significant issue and it appears, as a country, we may have recently gotten heavier -- and unhealthier,” said Michael Smith, MD, WebMD’s chief medical director.

According to the U.S. poll, about 42% of those who gained weight said they had “fallen off their diet.”

On the international poll, readers in these countries reported the most weight gain:

  • Italy 66%
  • Brazil 60%
  • Japan 51%
  • UK 46%
  • Canada 46%
  • Australia 45%
  • Russia 44%
  • India 37%
  • Singapore 33%
  • Germany 26%
  • Hong Kong 25%

“We’re turning to comfort foods to help ourselves feel better, but in reality, not only does it not help ease the stress and anxiety, it likely worsens it as people just don’t feel as good when eating high-fat, high-carb foods like many of us are turning to,” Smith said.

The findings also point to the high stress and anxiety that people are facing about the uncertainty of the pandemic, economy, and job loss -- and the effects that can have on healthy eating and exercise routines.

As states and countries begin to lift restrictions, people may feel encouraged to safely rejoin gyms that practice safe physical distancing and sanitation practices. Parks, trails, and greenspaces have also begun to reopen.

A few pounds of weight loss can make a difference. Even a modest decrease can lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels and improve the negative consequences associated with diabetes and heart disease.

“Hopefully as the ‘new normal’ is settling in, people can now find the motivation to get back to a more regular schedule, reach for more healthy foods, and look for opportunities to incorporate more activity throughout their day,” Smith said.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on May 18, 2020

Sources

American Heart Association: “Eat healthy, move your body to avoid ‘the COVID-19.’”

Mayo Clinic: “Packing on pounds during COVID-19 and how to turn it around.”

WebMD poll of 1,012 U.S. readers, May 17, 2020.

WebMD poll of 900 international readers, May 18, 2020.

Michael Smith, MD, chief medical director, WebMD.

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