WebMD Poll: Many Report Weight Gain During Shutdown

Carolyn Crist

May 19, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Many readers say they have gained weight during stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19, a new WebMD poll finds.

Among the 1,012 WebMD readers questioned, about 47% of women said they gained weight "due to COVID restrictions." About 22% of men said they gained weight.

Under many statewide restrictions, people weren't able to leave the house, and gyms were closed. Outside recreation areas, such as parks, trails, and greenspaces, were closed as well. Plus, parents took care of kids at home, and workers spent hours on the computer while teleworking.

The poll confirms national reports from the American Heart Association and Mayo Clinic. People have posted jokes on social media about inevitable weight gain, saying they've stacked on the "Quarantine 15" during stay-at-home guidelines.

According to the WebMD reader poll, people reported an average weight gain of about 8 pounds. Among readers who calculated the pounds:

  • 15% said they gained 1-3 pounds.

  • 34% said they gained 4-6 pounds.

  • 26% said they gained 7-9 pounds.

  • 21% said they gained 10-20 pounds.

  • 4% said they gained 21 pounds or more.

WebMD readers cited a number of reasons for the weight gain. About 72% reported a lack of exercise. About 70% said they've been stress eating. An overwhelming 59% said both a lack of exercise and stress eating were a problem. The reader poll was conducted May 17.

"That's a significant amount of weight gain in a relatively short period of time. Obviously, obesity and overweight were already a significant issue and it appears, as a country, we may have recently gotten heavier -- and unhealthier," said Michael Smith, MD, WebMD's chief medical director.

According to the poll, about 42% of those who gained weight said they had "fallen off their diet."

"We're turning to comfort foods to help ourselves feel better, but in reality, not only does it not help ease the stress and anxiety, it likely worsens it as people just don't feel as good when eating high-fat, high-carb foods like many of us are turning to," Smith said.

The findings also point to the high stress and anxiety that people are facing about the uncertainty of the pandemic, economy, and job loss -- and the effects that can have on healthy eating and exercise routines.

As states begin to lift restrictions, people may feel encouraged to safely rejoin gyms that practice safe physical distancing and sanitation practices. Parks, trails, and greenspaces have also begun to reopen.

A few pounds of weight loss can make a difference. Even a modest decrease can lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels and improve the negative consequences associated with diabetes and heart disease.

"Hopefully as the 'new normal' is settling in, people can now find the motivation to get back to a more regular schedule, reach for more healthy foods, and look for opportunities to incorporate more activity throughout their day," Smith said.

Sources

American Heart Association: "Eat healthy, move your body to avoid 'the COVID-19.'"

Mayo Clinic: "Packing on pounds during COVID-19 and how to turn it around."

WebMD poll of 1,012 readers, May 17, 2020.

Michael Smith, MD, chief medical director, WebMD.

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Don Saladino, Trainer. John Whyte, MD, MPH. Chief Medical Officer, WebMD.

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