Many people put on extra pounds during the pandemic and Dr. Baldeep Singh wishes there was more he could do for his vulnerable patients.
When Javier came to see me, he had gained 10 pounds. It was a surprise but since staying at home during COVID, he had stopped exercising and had started eating more. The result was the “Quarantine 15”, the weight gained due to pandemic stressors, such as losing jobs, living in tighter quarters, and facing an unknown virus. More than 40% of Americans say they've gained weight during the past year.
Prior to COVID, in the US, in 2018, over 40% of American adults met criteria for obesity, while more than 9% had severe obesity. As with many health indicators, obesity affects Black and Brown populations disproportionately compounding the impact of COVID where more “essential workers” support families and cope with understaffing at work due to illness and childcare issues.
I do not wish to “fat shame” anyone. Social, economic, and cultural factors increase obesity, and living in neighborhoods with few to no healthy food options, while big business promotes convenient and highly processed foods, also contributes to obesity. But along with the opioid crisis and COVID, obesity causes unnecessary, preventable illness and death, including type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. You can also add worse outcomes from COVID to this list.
We now need public health initiatives comparable to those waged against cigarette smoking. As a health care provider, I do my best to address personal behavior, but sadly for Javier, I have fewer options than I would like. I remained empathic, referred him to a nutritionist and provided some guidelines on exercise, but his situation reflects a larger public health issue, compounded by COVID. We need to generate the political will to make broad scale community changes to take on this growing crisis. Our nation’s health depends on it.