We’ve all read about (and experienced firsthand) how our habits changed during lockdown. Americans were more sedentary. We consumed more alcohol at home. We mindlessly ate while we binge-watched Netflix.
Americans under shelter-in-place orders gained more than half a pound every 10 days. That translates to about two pounds a month. At that rate, it’s not difficult to get to 24 pounds or more in a year.
In fact, the American Psychological Association’s survey of U.S. adults found that since the pandemic started, 42% reported they gained more weight than they intended; those who gained weight added an average of 29 pounds.
Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, a leading obesity researcher at Harvard Medical School, cites “stress” as a leading cause of pandemic-induced weight gain in a recent NPR report. She explains that stress doesn't just affect exercise and eating patterns; it also prompts the body to store more fat.
You can thank the hormone cortisol for all the worry weight. Released in the body during times of stress, cortisol can stimulate your appetite. When stress becomes persistent, cortisol remains chronically elevated. If cortisol remains elevated, fat storage occurs in the abdominal area (this type of fat is linked to cardiovascular disease).
Indeed there was no shortage of incidents that contributed to stress during the pandemic. There were life-changing experiences that encompassed the tragic loss of loved ones, social isolation, and escalation of nationwide violence. For many, there were the daily stressors of remote work during lockdown and the collision of our personal and professional lives.
With overweight individuals being more vulnerable to serious complications from COVID-19, the pandemic revealed how weight gain tests the health of the population and the healthcare system overall. Being overweight can increase the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, certain cancers, and coronary heart disease, among other conditions. “Weight gain is not an issue in and of itself, but the health risks it poses are,” emphasizes Dr. Harpreet Nagra, PhD, licensed psychologist and VP of behavior science at One Drop.
According to the American Diabetes Association, the prevalence of obesity (BMI >30 kg/m2) is a major risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes, depending on degree, duration, and distribution of weight. 80% of individuals with type 2 diabetes are obese. Increasing obesity is also associated with a decrease in insulin sensitivity.
Likewise, a recent study showed that losing weight can contribute to the remission of type 2 diabetes through intensive weight management with routine primary care. At 12 months, almost half the participants in the study achieved a non-diabetic state without drugs.
Considering the many ways diabetes and obesity present together, there’s a natural overlap in managing the two conditions. According to Amy Crees, One Drop personal health coach and registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), many people she works with are goal-setting to improve both.
“A lot of behaviors that improve blood sugars also happen to affect weight,” Crees explains. “If we focus on overall health and we see weight loss as a side effect, then we're not so heavily focused on numbers, but looking at behaviors.” She adds that usually it's the symptoms, without measuring numbers, that she sees improvement in first. The rest follows.
What employers can do
Obesity costs the U.S. healthcare system $147 billion a year. Diabetes costs add up to $20 billion a year in missed days of work. The total cost of chronic conditions in the United States reaches $3.7 trillion each year when including indirect costs associated with lost economic productivity. That’s approximately 19.6% of the country's gross domestic product.
What steps can employers take beyond the usual perks of free gym memberships and walking meetings to manage weight gain and practice chronic condition self-care? Suggestions from the recent One Drop webinar, “Supporting Employees to Manage Post-Lockdown Weight Gain in the U.S.,” include:
- provide flex time to make doctor’s visits and other appointments to improve baseline health
- reorganize the employee’s schedule to accommodate exercise, especially during daylight hours
- communicate employee benefits via easy-to-read bullet points during enrollment
- offer personalized care programs to avoid a “one-size-fits-all” approach
- acknowledge the emotional well-being of team members
- prioritize self-care as part of reviews, especially among high performers who might overlook it
Novel solutions such as these can decrease the cognitive burden on employees, according to Dr. Nagra. “Managing obesity and chronic conditions is often like a second job on top of work and family,” she says. “The best thing employers can do for employees is to hold themselves accountable. Self-reflection on their part, as well as on the part of employees, will serve them well.”
Help your employees turn lifestyle changes into lifelong habits by offering them One Drop. They can track their progress and work with one of One Drop’s dedicated health coaches on goals, roadblocks, and everything in between. All they need is a smartphone to get started with the app. One Drop really works to support employees on their journey to better health and clinical outcomes. Recent published outcomes from Bayer show overweight and obese employees using One Drop lost an average of over 10.49 pounds.