Lots of folks gained their COVID weight during the housebound months of the pandemic, and now those extra pounds are weighing heavy on many, a new survey shows.
Nearly a third (29%) of just over 1,700 adults surveyed in December 2021 said COVID-19 made them more worried than ever about being obese, according to findings published recently in the journal Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases.
That means an estimated 6.4 million thought about using either weight-loss surgery or prescription anti-obesity drugs for the first time, the researchers said.
“We've definitely seen a significant rise in interest in weight-loss surgery and other underutilized treatments since obesity was linked to worse outcomes from COVID-19,” said co-researcher Dr. Shanu Kothari, immediate past president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS).
“COVID-19 lit the match for many people to get healthier and protect themselves from severe disease, whether that be COVID-19, diabetes, or heart disease. Treating obesity, the source of so many of these diseases, is the best way,” Kothari said in an ASMBS news release.
Nearly 1 out of 5 people (18%) said they were more likely to initiate a discussion about their weight specifically because of the added risk of severe COVID in the obese and overweight, survey results showed.
Those numbers were even higher among Black (28%) and Hispanic (29%) Americans, as well as among people living with obesity (27%), researchers reported.
Obesity affects more than 42% of Americans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Extra weight is a known risk factor for severe COVID. Among nearly 150,000 adults diagnosed with COVID between March and December 2020, nearly 30% were overweight and more than half (51%) were obese, researchers said in background notes.
More than 9 out of 10 people with obesity have tried to lose weight at some point in their lives, with 70% saying they're still trying, the survey found.
Amid the pandemic, more than 60% who attempted a new approach to weight loss said they had considered diet and exercise.
Other novel tactics included working with a doctor (37%), taking anti-obesity drugs (15%) or getting weight-loss surgery (13%).
Researchers noted these numbers are far larger than the percentage of people who actually receive these treatments each year.
For example, only about 1% of those who meet the recommended BMI criteria for weight-loss surgery undergo the procedure in any given year, while an estimated 1% to 3% of people take prescription medications for obesity, according to the ASMBS.
Survey respondents agreed overwhelmingly (82%) that obesity is the biggest health threat facing the country, as big as cancer (82%) and even more than heart disease (77%), diabetes (76%) and COVID (68%).
Despite their concerns, most people stick to dieting and exercise to lose weight, with nearly three-quarters (73%) judging that the most effective means of long-term weight loss.
By comparison, only 65% considered involving a doctor, 56% thought of surgery, and 23% weighed prescription drugs as effective methods of weight loss.
Most Americans see obesity as a risk factor for other diseases (61%) rather than a disease itself, and nearly three-quarters (73%) cited a lack of willpower as a barrier to losing weight.
“Our hope is that people turn the fear of obesity and the consideration of new weight-loss strategies into action,” said ASMBS President Dr. Teresa LaMasters.
“With greater eligibility for weight-loss surgery and the emergence of effective new anti-obesity medications, Americans have more and better options than ever before, and they should take advantage of them when appropriate. Talk to your doctor," she said in the release.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about obesity and COVID-19.
SOURCE: American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, news release, March 22, 2023