COVID-19: After the worst of the pandemic, it’s time to get fit

Has everyone around you gained weight over the last two years? This might be why.

 Magen David Adom workers wearing protective clothing release a patient from the Coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on February 09, 2022. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Magen David Adom workers wearing protective clothing release a patient from the Coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on February 09, 2022.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The pandemic caused many of us to gain weight, but only now is it clear how “wide” this trend is. A recent study found that in the two years since the coronavirus pandemic started, the average person has gained 12kg. Are you surprised?

The last two years have upended everyone’s routine, with nationwide closures, periods of  isolation, economic pressure, anxiety and uncertainty abound. 

Naturally, many of us moved less and ate much more. Much literature has already been published about the pandemic’s rising obesity trend, among children and adults alike, but now it is clear how much weight was gained, and what led to it.

A new study, published by Harvard, found that since March 2020, worldwide, people gained an average of 12 kg. The study was based on an analysis of the medical information available in the United States which examined 150,000 subjects before, during and after the outbreak. 

Researchers found that 39% of the subjects gained more than one kg, more than 25% gained about 5 kg, 10% gained more than 5 kg, and 2% gained more than 12 kg.

 A man screams mid-exercise as he focuses during his workout (Illustrative) (credit: PIXAHIVE) A man screams mid-exercise as he focuses during his workout (Illustrative) (credit: PIXAHIVE)

What caused this weight gain?

The study found that weight gain affected the general population and wasn’t  limited to only those who already have a tendency for it. 

Researchers pointed to mental stress as a main factor since it causes the body to release cortisol in the brain. Cortisol is a hormone that increases cravings for carbohydrates, sugar, fat and salt. This, combined with a limited ability to exercise, caused many people to gain weight.

Unhealthy food products, as opposed to fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat protein items, such as plain yogurt, give immediate, yet short-term satisfaction, and cause long-term overeating. 

This increases the risk of obesity, of type 2 diabetes, of heart attacks and of muscle damage. Cortisol itself concentrates fat in the abdominal area and leads to the production of abdominal fat, which is known to be a risk factor that can double the risk of dangerous physical states.

In some cases, obesity manifested in more than a few kg of excess weight. A core group of people at risk for obesity may face real danger. 

Dr. Shai Eldar, director of the obesity treatment center at the Ichilov bariatric surgical division in Tel Aviv, part of the Sourasky Medical Center, explained that in the West, obesity is a main factor that causes a range of diseases and complications. More than a quarter of the Israeli population suffers from it.

Elder explained that obesity is a chronic disease and not a behavioral failure. 

"Many studies show that this disease is physiological-genetic, and although there are controllable parameters like diet and lifestyle, the majority of the overweight population regains its excess weight after attempting weight loss and even doubles its weight," he said.

Eldar emphasized that obesity is a significant complication factor of the coronavirus. 

He added that, in medicine, there aren’t many areas where a real solution can be provided in one treatment like bariatric surgery. 

These operations help in cases where there is no other solution to life-threatening obesity. 

Losing weight, for patients who are obese and at risk for various medical problems, can be a significant solution to complications from COVID-19.