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Coronavirus lockdowns spurred nearly 2 pounds of monthly weight gain

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A small study estimating the health consequences of prolonged shelter-in-place orders amid the coronavirus pandemic suggested Americans gained about 1.5 pounds every month.

Researchers from the University of California San Francisco published a research letter in JAMA Network Open on Monday, drawing on results from 269 participants across 37 states and Washington, DC in the Health eHeart Study. They analyzed data from participants’ Bluetooth-enabled scales, like a Fitbit, to track weight measurements from February to June 2020.

“We found that, while weights were actually headed down (losing weight) pre-pandemic, they rose significantly as shelter in place order took hold,” Dr. Gregory Marcus, cardiologist and professor of medicine at UCSF, wrote in part to Fox News in an emailed statement.

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Nearly 8,000 weight measurements among the 269 participants revealed “steady weight gain at a rate of 0.27 kg every 10 days,” about 0.6 pounds, regardless of location or comorbidities. “These results translate into approximately 1.5 lb of weight gain every month,” authors wrote. 

“Our study wasn’t equipped to determine the specific reasons why individuals experienced weight gain during shelter in place, but it’s reasonable to assume much of it was related to lack of physical activity plus possibly more constant accessibility to food while working from home,” Marcus continued, later adding, “we don’t realize how much exercise we get simply walking up the stairs to a meeting instead of clicking on the next Zoom link or walking across the street to grab some coffee instead of down the hall to our kitchen.”

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The corresponding author warned the participants weren’t fully representative of the general population. 

They “were particularly interested in health and going to the trouble of weighing themselves on a regular basis—therefore, it is possible our findings substantially underestimate the magnitude of the true weight-gain effects among the population at large,” Marcus wrote.

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The researchers called for strategies to reduce weight gain, like promoting healthy eating and ways to boost exercise as governments continue in their pandemic response. Marcus suggests building a habit of exercise into daily schedules, “treating that time to exercise like an appointment you can’t miss.”

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