Obesity has been a serious chronic disease in the U.S. and globally for decades. As the pandemic continues to alter our world, weight gain has become an even bigger concern.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017 about of all adults living in the U.S. were obese. During the pandemic that percentage increased significantly.
How obesity rates have risen during the pandemic
In the U.S., obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) greater than or equal to 30 kg/m2 but less than 40 kg/m2. You can easily calculate your own BMI using the CDC’s online adult BMI calculator to get a general idea of where you sit on the spectrum.
If you have gained weight during the pandemic, you’re not alone. In fact, a survey done by the American Psychological Association (APA) in March 2021 found that around 42% of Americans said they had gained more weight than they intended. It has resulted in an average of about 30 pounds in extra weight.
It’s not only adults who are gaining extra pounds. Another study showed obesity rates in 5 to 11 year old’s have also gone up during the pandemic from around 36% to just over 45%. In total, 16 states currently have obesity rates of at least 35% or higher.
What has been causing Americans to gain more weight? Experts point to the following factors:
- a more sedentary lifestyle
- food insecurity
- increased alcohol consumption
- decrease in physical activity
- delayed medical care
With fewer activities to occupy time and decreased opportunities for socializing with friends and family during the pandemic, many people became less mobile. These factors, along with increased stress have made it easier for people to gain weight during the pandemic.
What are the risk factors of obesity?
Obesity can impact your life in many ways. You may find that activities you could once do with ease are now difficult or even impossible. In this way, obesity can reduce your quality of life and contribute to other health issues.
“Obesity effects every organ system of the body. It increases the risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, all of which can lead to heart disease and stroke,” explains Dr. Steven Hendrick, a Beaumont bariatric surgeon. “There is an increased risk of developing certain cancers such as breast, cervical, prostate, esophageal and colon cancer as well. People who are morbidly obese on average have a 7-year shorter life expectancy and increases the earlier in life you develop obesity.”
The risk factors for becoming obese include:
- inherited genes
- unhealthy eating habits
- consuming liquid calories
- inactive lifestyle
- certain medications
- living in a lower socio-economic group
- lack of sleep
- too much stress in your life
- your microbiome (gut bacteria)
Obesity may become more prevalent as you age, and as your hormones change. This can make it harder to lose weight and keep it off.
When to talk to your doctor about weight loss
If you are concerned about your weight and how it may be impacting your life, it’s important to talk with your doctor about your overall health and your weight loss options. While some people find they can make the changes they need on their own, oftentimes having medical support can be important for your long-term health.
Weight loss solutions for obesity
People who are obese can benefit from participating in guided weight loss programs. These programs are often based on long-term solutions and lifestyle changes instead of ways to lose weight quickly. They can also educate you about weight loss medications or surgical weight loss options for people who qualify.
Your doctor may prescribe medications that can help you lose weight while engaging in healthier eating and activity. New types of drugs are now providing some patients with a safer and potentially more effective approach to weight loss.
Surgical weight loss options can also be helpful for someone who has struggled with chronic obesity their whole life. Surgical weight loss and bariatric surgery options include:
- gastric bypass surgery
- gastric banding
- sleeve gastrectomy
- vagal blockade (vbloc)
- biliopancreatic diversion
- gastric balloon
While access to weight loss surgery may be delayed because of the pandemic, it is worth beginning a discussion with your doctor or taking a free online seminar to explore your options.
Whether you have always struggled with your weight or are facing a new challenge due to the pandemic, talk to your doctor about your weight loss options. It’s the first step towards changing your life for the better.