Studies suggest that many people gained weight during the pandemic
The number of US states with high obesity levels has almost doubled in the space of two years, official figures reveal.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Wednesday that there were 16 states where 35 per cent of residents were classified as obese last year, compared to 12 states in 2019 and nine in 2018.
The picture was much worse for people of colour, with 22 states meeting that threshold for Hispanic residents and 35 states plus the District of Columbia meeting it for Black residents. For white people, the number was seven.
Officials warned that the trend puts Americans at heightened risk of death or serious disease from Covid-19, which tends to be more dangerous for people with a high body mass index (BMI).
BMI is a blunt measure of body fat that simply compares a person’s weight to their height, with scores above 30 counted as obese. It is less accurate for individuals than for large groups of people, and its connection to actual health varies between ethnic groups.
The CDC said: “To change the current course of obesity will take a sustained, comprehensive effort from all parts of society. We will need to acknowledge existing health disparities and health inequities and address the social determinants of health such as poverty and lack of health care access if we are to ensure health equity.”
A report from the non-profit group Trust for America’s Health said the coronavirus pandemic had exacerbated the problem by forcing many people to reduce their physical activity.
Although the CDC’s figures for 2020 were broadly in line with longer-term trends, the Trust cited other studies suggesting mass weight gain during the pandemic.
On top of the enforced lethargy of lockdowns, it blamed stress and trauma from job losses, poverty, social isolation and other struggles for dragging down Americans’ health.
“The pandemic has placed many people and communities at greater risk of changing eating habits because of those social and economic disruptions,” said the Trust’s chief executive J Nadine Gracia.
Fatima Cody Stanford, a doctor and obesity researcher at Harvard Medical School, told USA Today that stress was “the number one cause we see for shift in weight”, saying it could lead to over-eating and new food cravings.
Before 2013, there were no states in the US with obesity rates above 35pc. Since then, however, it has risen steadily, reaching five in 2016 and seven in 2017.
In 2019, the states meeting that threshold were Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee. In 2020 they were joined by Delaware, Iowa, Ohio and Texas.
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