COVID Lockdowns Are Fueling Another Dangerous Epidemic, Scientists Warn

This negative effect of quarantining could effect Americans for years to come, experts say.

When COVID-19 touched down in the U.S. in March, health officials determined that the best way to slow the spread of the virus was to go into lockdown. While this tactic largely worked to curb the coronavirus pandemic for at least a handful of weeks, it also negatively contributed to another epidemic: obesity. Unfortunately, mitigating the effects of the coronavirus epidemic through isolation and stay-at-home orders added fuel to the obesity epidemic, according to a new report from a team of Danish researchers at the University of Copenhagen. They published a letter in the journal Nature Reviews Endocrinology warning the public about the negative effects of quarantine on obesity.

"Societal strategies implemented to oppose COVID-19 might have long-term, negative effects on the obesity epidemic," the scientists note. They explain that quarantining "might trigger a series of psychobiological mechanisms that accelerate obesity occurrence and increase the risk of developing obesity-linked comorbidities."

The obesity epidemic in America has been growing for the past two decades. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 1999-2000, 30.5 percent of Americans were considered obese (i.e., they had a body mass index—BMI—of over 30). In 2017-2018, that statistic rose to 42.4 percent. The researchers that penned the letter are concerned quarantine will make this percentage shoot up even more due to the economic havoc the pandemic has brought, as well as the isolation and mental health issues that come with quarantining.

Of course, many people have lost their source of income during the COVID-19 epidemic, and a 2011 study out of Jackson State University found a strong association between obesity and lower income communities. The study showed that people below the poverty level, people receiving food stamps, and people receiving unemployment were consuming more low-quality food due to economic factors, which, in turn, increased their BMI. According to the Danish researchers, "An abundance of highly processed, energy-rich, palatable, cheap and readily available foods promotes calorie intake beyond energetic needs, and such foods are often preferentially selected by individuals with a lower socioeconomic status who have limited income and resources."

Woman eating donuts and chips while working form home

Another factor that could lead COVID-19 quarantines to contribute to an increased risk of obesity is declining mental health. The isolation and constant anxiety surrounding the pandemic have led to increased mental health challenges for much of the population. According to the CDC, 40.9 percent of participants of a June survey reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral condition due to the pandemic.

The Danish researchers caution that loneliness and isolation can negatively alter how people interact with food and lead some to overeat.

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Additionally, the researchers said, "Home confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic provides an altered food cue exposure, which could challenge the individual's cognitive restraint and enhance impulsive eating behavior." So, not only could some people be inclined to engage in emotional eating while isolated, but the removal of social eating practices can reduce mindful eating and negatively influence people's dietary choices, according to the researchers.

All of these elements are also compounded by less active lifestyles due to fitness centers closing, organized sports being put on pause, and the elimination of work commutes. As a result, the researchers urge officials to implement interventions that would counteract the increased risk of obesity that comes with lockdowns. They suggest "socioeconomic safety nets and community support networks" to help ensure obesity does not spike in the quest to control COVID-19. And if you want to avoid another lockdown, check out Dr. Fauci Says You Have to "Be on Board" With This to Avoid Lockdown.

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