New research shows that lifestyle and financial restraints resulting from coronavirus lockdowns are leading people to eat more processed foods.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — What’s the point in working out, dieting right, and sculpting the perfect beach body if you never get the chance to show it off? All of the physical inactivity, time spent stuck home, and emotional stress during coronavirus lockdowns, may escalate the obesity epidemic a new study from the University of Copenhagen finds.
In short, researchers believe that the coronavirus is creating a perfect storm of psychosocial insecurity that may lead to far greater numbers of obese individuals over the coming months and years. They say certain measures must be taken to keep everyone safe from COVID-19 without sacrificing their “metabolic health.”
“We are concerned that policy makers do not fully understand how strategies such as lockdowns and business closures could fuel the rise of obesity – a chronic disease with severe health implications, but with few reliable treatment options,” says Associate Professor Christoffer Clemmensen, from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research (CBMR), in a release.
At the top of researchers’ concerns is the long-established trend of people with less “economic resources” often eating unhealthier, more processed foods. Thanks to the beating the global economy is taking, millions of people all over the world suddenly find themselves in a worse financial situation.
“It is likely that more people will turn to these forms of food, as more people lose their jobs and experience economic hardship,” explains study co-author Professor Michael Bang Petersen, from the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University.
How social distancing is impacting mental health, eating habits
Another big factor in all of this is social distancing. The practice of staying away from other people during this pandemic, of course, is a necessary evil. But, regarding the fight against obesity, it’s almost certainly worsening the situation. Staying away from friends and family immediately increases stress and anxiety. This, combined with the fact that so many people are sitting at home with nothing else to do anyway, promises to encourage overeating and excessive snacking.
Let’s also not forget how difficult it is for most people to get a meaningful workout in at home. It’s easy to to understand why experts ringing the proverbial obesity alarm.
According to Professor Thorkild I.A. Sørensen from CBMR at the University of Copenhagen, one of the study’s co-authors, modern science still does not fully understand the full scope of the relationship between mental health, finances, and obesity risk.
“We know that there are links between obesity and a person’s class and mental health, but we don’t exactly understand how they make an impact,” he notes.
More research is necessary to completely understand all of the cause and effect elements at play here. Still, researchers are confident in their scientific expectations that both social distancing and the rising rate of unemployment will lead to more obese individuals.
Researchers suggest that governments and health organizations alike keep these metabolic considerations in mind while deciding on containment strategies. With enough effort, it shouldn’t prove impossible to develop some ways to keep people safe from COVID-19 while also maintaining metabolic health.
The study is published in Nature Reviews Endocrinology.