Updated: March 25, 2021 5:07:22 pm
Written by Roni Caryn Rabin
Soon after the pandemic started over a year ago, Americans started joking about the dreaded “quarantine 15,” worried they might gain weight while shut in homes with stockpiles of food, glued to computer screens and binge-watching Netflix.
The concern is real, but assessing the problem’s scope has been a challenge. Surveys that simply ask people about their weight are notoriously unreliable, and many medical visits have been virtual.
Now a very small study using objective measures — weight measurements from Bluetooth-connected smart scales — suggests that adults under shelter-in-place orders gained more than half a pound every 10 days.
That translates to nearly 2 pounds a month, said Dr. Gregory M. Marcus, senior author of the research letter, published Monday in the peer-reviewed JAMA Network Open. Americans who kept up their lockdown habits could easily have gained 20 pounds over the course of a year, he added.
“We know that weight gain is a public health problem in the U.S. already, so anything making it worse is definitely concerning, and shelter-in-place orders are so ubiquitous that the sheer number of people affected by this makes it extremely relevant,” said Marcus, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco.
While it is almost impossible to make generalizations based on the study — which included fewer than 300 people scattered across the United States — all participants were tracking their weight regularly.
The new study analyzed data obtained from 269 participants who were involved in an ongoing cardiology study, the Health eHeart Study. They volunteered to report weight measurements from Bluetooth-connected smart scales and weighed themselves regularly. The researchers gathered 7,444 weight measurements over a four-month period, an average of 28 weight measurements from each participant.
The participants were from 37 states and the District of Columbia. The researchers analyzed weight measurements taken between Feb. 1, 2020, and June 1, 2020, in order to look at weight changes both before and after shelter-in-place orders were issued for each state.
While the participants mostly had been losing pounds before the orders were issued, their weights rose steadily at a rate of about six-tenths of a pound every 10 days after the orders were issued, regardless of where they were in the country and regardless of chronic medical conditions.
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