Study: Obesity contributed to negative health impacts during early part of pandemic



K-State nutrition expert cites study that gives further support to maintaining             healthy lifestyle

MANHATTAN, Kan. – A Kansas State University nutrition specialist says a newly published study of early health impacts related to the COVID-19 pandemic is further testimony to the benefits of maintaining a healthy weight.

Sandy Procter said an important message from the research – which included more than 7,700 people from around the world – is that people who were considered obese experienced more negative impacts during the early stages of the pandemic.

During the early stages, when lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were more common, “those who were obese were found to be more likely to have gained weight,” Procter said. “And they were more likely to report increased stress during that time.”

The research, conducted by a team of international scientists, took place in April and May, 2020 and was peer-reviewed early last summer. The findings, and related articles, are published in the December issue of the journal, Obesity.

The study’s data compared people who were considered normal weight, overweight or obese. One portion of a related study – also in the December issue of Obesity – concluded that obesity doubles the mortality rate in patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

“If you can recall back to the early lockdown period, I truly feel like we were all kind of suspended,” Procter said. “Everything ground to a halt. Some of the initial health effects noted in COVID patients were more profound in at-risk groups that needed helpful support, especially persons with pre-existing conditions, including obesity. ”

For most, the lockdown period meant adjusting their daily routine, including when they sleep, go to work and, perhaps, exercise. Some did it better than others.

“There were 10% of the people in this study who found that their sleep quality improved,” Procter said. “And those who found themselves without long commutes found they had more time to exercise. It was maybe a change in how they did it, but there was more time in their day for healthful activities.”

Yet, she added, “some of those opportunities are not as available to everyone across the board.”

“So the effect of the stress caused by the pandemic has become noticeable among different parts of the population.”

The disruption in lifestyles did also provide another important reminder, according to Procter.

“If we’re smart, we’re going to keep a closer eye on our own self-care and realize that there may be many opportunities… to support our health,” she said. “But when it comes down to it, it really has a lot to do with personal awareness of our health and the variety of factors that we can address.”

It seems to be a valid point because stress, as Procter points out, won’t go away once the pandemic is in the rearview mirror. There will still be jobs to go to, school to attend, kids to take care of, and other responsibilities.

“My hope is that, ideally, the emphasis that communities are placing on having resources that support mental health and identifying situations where people are at risk –preventative health steps — will become more commonplace,” Procter said, “and that there will be more resources and attention paid to those areas.”

Tips for healthy living are available online from K-State Research and Extension.

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Sidebar: Maintaining the momentum of good health

Sandy Procter, a nutrition specialist with K-State Research and Extension, said it is important that people remember to continue healthy habits they may have developed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s real hope among food and nutrition types that the trend to cook more meals at home will continue,” she said. “People will rebound and go out to eat more when it’s safer to do so. But hopefully they will remember that they have these skills and how healthful and good home-cooked meals are, as well as the joy of preparing and sharing the meal with family and friends.”

Procter also cited research that indicates many people have developed better sleep and exercise habits.

“If we get busy again and things revert back to travel and commutes and some of the things that take up our time, we need to remember to keep some of those things that keep us healthy still at the forefront,” she said.

FOR PRINT PUBLICATIONS: Links used in this story
Obesity, research journal of The Obesity Society (Dec. 2020),

K-State’s Department of Food, Nutrition, Dietetics and Health,

K State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county extension offices, experiment fields, area extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K State campus in Manhattan. For more information, visit K-State Research and Extension is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

Story by:
Pat Melgares
[email protected]

For more information:
Sandy Procter
[email protected]


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