Pandemic and obesity, what’s the correlation?


WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — You may have heard about the “quarantine 15” which refers to the weight gain many of us experienced during the pandemic.

A new report issued Wednesday finds the majority of Americans packed on unwanted pounds since March 2020. 61 percent of Americans had an undesirable weight gain, including 42 percent of adults. But a report just out Wednesday finds that overeating isn’t all that’s to blame.

29 pounds is the average weight gain for Americans since the pandemic started. The data is detailed in Trust For America’s Health annual State of Obesity Report. It finds Pennsylvania had a less than five percent increase in obesity but that more than half of the commonwealth is overweight or obese.

“It’s been extremely challenging like many other states across the country,” said the Health Director of Policy Development of TFAH Jeanette Kowalik, Ph.D.

Pennsylvania is ranked the 27th most obese state. More than half of every state is overweight or obese raising the risk of such health threats as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. The report finds the issue with weight is more than just eating more.

“The pandemic has magnified a lot of issues that we have already known about such as some of the issues of access to care, economic stability as far as wages, access to child care,” said Kowalik.

Dr. Jeanette Kowalik says access to nutritional food is another significant social determinant of health. She emphasizes the importance of initiatives that provide fresh fruits and veggies and other healthy options to the public.

“This is extremely important to meet people where they’re at. Sometimes we assume everyone knows what healthy means and you know being in public health for about two decades now I’ve learned oftentimes our assumptions are wrong,” Kowalik explained.

Limiting the processed and packaged and increasing access to high-grade produce and other high-quality foods, she says, can help reverse the decades-long pattern of obesity in America.

“Weight is not necessarily always tied to someone’s decision to eat fast food or whatever. Sometimes it’s based on and oftentimes it’s based off of what is available in the community,” said Kowalik.

The report looks at other factors including race and ethnicity, gender and education, and rural versus urban living. Head over to Trusts for America’s Health State Obesity report website for more information.

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