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 two pounds a month, said Dr. Gregory M. Marcus, senior author of the research letter, published on 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.
physical activity that is part and parcel of daily living, the researchers said.
“If you think about people commuting, even running to the subway or bus stop, or stepping in at the post office to mail a letter, or stopping at the store — we burn a lot of calories in non-exercise activities of daily living,” said Leanne Redman, a professor of clinical physiology at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, part of Louisiana State University.
Her research had found that people were eating a healthier diet during the initial days of the shutdown but were more sedentary.
The number of steps people took declined by 27 percent a month after the World Health Organization declared the pandemic.
The concern about exercise also extends to children, who are known to pack on unhealthy pounds during the summer recess months when they are not in school. The risk is even greater for Hispanic and Black children than for white children, said Andrew G. Rundle, an associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, author of a recent paper that expressed concern that school closings would exacerbate existing racial health disparities.
“We argued that being out of school, which we thought would go on for six months and has gone on longer, was going to be like the summer recess but even worse, because everyone would be loading up on shelf-stable calorie-laden food, and staying indoors and not going out,” he said. “Everything that makes the summer dangerous for kids would be magnified by the lockdown.”