DALLAS – August 09, 2022 – During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, almost 30% of obese patients gained more than 5% of their body weight and 1 in 7 gained more than 10%. While diet and exercise habits were factors, people with the highest levels of stress, anxiety and depression reported the most weight gain, UT Southwestern researchers said. reported in the journal Obesity.
Jaime Almandoz, MD
“The COVID-19 pandemic is a fascinating model for individual and social stress and showed that changes in mental health can prevent people from maintaining a healthy body weight,” said the study’s author. Jaime Almandoz, MD, MBA, FTOSAssociate Professor of Internal Medicine at Division of Endocrinology in Southwestern UT.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 42% of American adults are obese, which increases their risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and many types of cancer.
Early in the pandemic, doctors treating obesity began to suspect that lockdowns, social isolation, reduced access to health care and changes in food availability were negatively affecting many of their patients.
In 2020, Dr. Almandoz and his colleagues at UT Southwestern Weight health program and the UT Health Center for Pediatric Population Health were the first to publish on the impact of stay-at-home orders on health behaviors and mental health in people with obesity. they reported that nearly 70% of patients said their weight loss goals were more difficult to achieve during the initial pandemic lockdown, nearly half exercised less and stocked up on food, and 61% admitted to stress eating. A second study found that rates of recreational drug and alcohol use were also increased in obese patients.
In the new paper, the team surveyed 404 people during the Delta variant growth between March and November 2021. All participants had been seen for obesity treatment at one of three clinics in Dallas during the previous two years and had a body mass index (BMI) . at least 30.
On average, respondents gained 4.3% of their body weight during the pandemic. Almost a third of people reported gaining more than 5%, with some people gaining more than 25%, or up to 80 pounds. The stress and difficulties reported were surprising given the socio-economic profiles of the study population, said Dr. Almandoz, as almost half had household incomes greater than $75,000 and almost 60% were college graduates.
“People who are enrolled in weight management programs usually lose weight,” said Dr. Almandoz. “If people with these levels of privilege are experiencing significant challenges during the pandemic, these stresses are likely to be amplified in the general population.”
When researchers looked at factors associated with weight gain, they found that people who ate less healthily or slept and exercised less tended to gain more weight. But mental health factors were also highly correlated: people who earned more reported higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Even when other factors were controlled for, poor mental health was still associated with weight gain.
“Our findings highlight the complexity of obesity; it’s not just about telling people to eat less and move more,” said Dr. Almandoz. “There’s a mental health aspect that needs to be integrated into treating the whole person as well.”
Dr. Almandoz hopes the new findings will help clinicians better screen their patients for mental health challenges when they see weight gain and refer patients to programs that integrate mental health treatment, such as the Weight Wellness Program of UT Southwestern.
Other researchers involved in the study include Luyu Xie, Jeffrey N. Schellinger, M. Sunil Mathew, Elisa Morales Marroquin, Natia Murvelashvili, Shreeya Khatiwada, Carrie McAdams and Sarah E. Messiah, all of UTSW and the UT Health Science Center; and Sachin Kukreja of Minimally Invasive Surgical Associates, Dallas.
This work was funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health (R01MD011686-S1 and R01MD011686).
About UT Southwestern Medical Center
UT Southwestern, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes and includes 26 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 2,900 are responsible for innovative medical advances and are dedicated to rapidly translating science-driven research into new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in more than 80 specialties to more than 100,000 inpatients, more than 360,000 emergency room cases and oversee nearly 4 million outpatient visits annually.