Researchers from Louisiana State University's Pennington Biomedical Research Center conducted the first global survey that revealed how people's habits dramatically changed after the first phase of the coronavirus lockdown. The recently published study in the journal Obesity, the online survey collected information on the mental health, dietary behaviors, and physical activity of people before and since the beginning of the pandemic.
More than 7,700 participants took the online survey. Generally, anxiety scores, weight gain, and sedentary leisure behaviors increased during the lockdown. There was also a slight increase in healthy eating due to less eating out and cooking more meals at home.
Despite eating out less frequently, "we snacked more...got less exercise...[and] went to bed later and slept more poorly," said Leanne Redman. Also, anxiety levels generally doubled either from pre-existing mental conditions and/or fear of the virus.
Furthermore, lockdown magnified the lifestyle of people with obesity. In general, obese people were able to improve their diet the most. Unfortunately, they had the highest rates of weight gain, and the sharpest declines in their mental health explained Dr. Redman. During the lockdown, 33% of people with obesity gained weight.
International Online Survey
The online survey was conducted between April 3 to May 3 where people from over 50 countries completed the questionnaire. More than 50% of Americans who completed the survey were from Louisiana. 12,000 participants took the short survey while 7,700 answered the optional modified Rapid Eating Assessment questionnaire. Some of the survey topics included skipping breakfast, consuming less than two fruits and vegetables daily, how many meals people had per day and the consumption of sweets or desserts.
To measure physical activity and sedentary lifestyle, the online survey included modified versions of the Nurses' Health Study Physical Activity Questionnaire and Compendium of Physical Activities. To measure mental health and sleep, the researchers used the GAD-7 anxiety scale.
According to the authors, stress was a major factor in causing "sleep disruption, consumption of highly palatable foods, and increased snacking, often resulting in weight gain." Therefore, a pandemic can potentially affect non-communicable diseases like obesity.
The Pandemic's Effect on Obesity
It is the first global study of changes in lifestyle behavior during the pandemic as the result of lockdown measures. Dr. John Kirwan said that the study shows how chronic diseases such as obesity affects beyond physical health. "Dr. Redman's study is just one of many initiatives the center launched to help understand COVID-19's impact and to slow its spread."
Dr. Emily Flangan from the Reproductive Endocrinology and Women's Health Laboratory said that the study can help physicians modify how obese patients can be managed. First, the number of mental health screenings during and after the pandemic should be increased.
Second, participants in the study should be connected to scientists and doctors via remote visits and telehealth to prevent possible irreversible health effects due to the pandemic. Virtual meetings can also be an option for those who want to avoid face-to-face meetings.
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