Pandemic measures had a strong impact on mental and physical health
Written by Lori Uildriks, Pharm.D., BCPS, BCGP on October 27, 2020 — Fact checked by Rita Ponce, Ph.D.
A new study using a global online survey demonstrates that COVID-19 stay-at-home orders resulted in a dramatic increase in unhealthful lifestyle changes.
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According to the study — which appeared in the journal Obesity — there were significant increases in sedentary leisure behaviors, declines in physical activity, and increases in anxiety and weight gain, especially in people with obesity.
On the upside, lockdown resulted in substantial improvements in healthful eating.
Since the first reported case of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, SARS-CoV-2 has spread rapidly worldwide, posing a grave health threat.
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On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, with the United States announcing a national emergency on March 13.
The impact of stay-at-home orders
The U.S. implemented different strategies to limit person-to-person contact in order to mitigate the spread of the virus. Although stay-at-home, quarantine, and social distancing measures diminish transmission of SARS-CoV-2, other health ramifications of these actions are not entirely understood.
The abrupt closures of fitness clubs, restaurants, and places of employment alter eating and physical activity habits. The fear of developing COVID-19, in addition to stay-at-home orders, may provoke added feelings of loneliness and isolation, further exacerbating stress and anxiety.
Stress during a pandemic may result in:
- anxiety and fear about health, loss of support services, finances, or unemployment
- sleep disruption or altered sleeping patterns
- changed eating habits
- trouble concentrating
- worsening of chronic health problems, including mental health conditions
- increased use of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances
Stress associated with altered sleeping patterns, more frequent snacking, and consuming sweet foods may also lead to weight gain.
Researchers at Louisiana State University’s (LSU’s) Pennington Biomedical Research Center designed an innovative online global survey study to quantify changes in physical activity, sedentary behaviors, sleep, mental health, and dietary habits in adults aged 18 and older before and during the initial phase of the COVID-19 lockdown.
The anonymous online survey, accessed through Facebook, the research center’s web page, and an email listserv, ran from April 3, 2020, to May 3, 2020. More than 12,000 individuals looked at the survey, with a total of 7,753 surveys included for analysis.
About 95% of the participants resided in the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. The participants were predominantly white, female, and living in a two-person household, with an average age of 51.
Approximately 32% of the participants had overweight, 34% had obesity, and 32% had a healthy weight. The results of the online survey demonstrated substantial lifestyle changes during the pandemic.