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Pandemic shows risk of obesity and challenge for weight loss



NEW YORK (AP) – Jennifer Bergin was already overweight and pre-diabetic before the pandemic, and by learning that she also had high blood pressure, she became concerned about how sick she could get with COVID-19. She started walking three hours a day and eventually lost 60 pounds.

“I just knew I was one of the main candidates to get it and not get me,” said Bergin, a 50-year-old resident of Charlotte, North Carolina. Now 170 pounds and 5 feet, 4 inches tall, she is no longer considered overweight but would like to continue to improve her health.

Since the early days of the pandemic, health officials have warned that obesity and related conditions such as diabetes were risk factors for severe COVID-1

9. It was another reminder of the many underlying health problems that are often signaled by obesity – as well as how stubbornly difficult sustained weight loss can be. Even in the face of such risks, it is not clear how common Bergin’s dramatic weight loss can be.

Across the country, countless people of all body sizes have either gained or lost themselves during the pandemic. For some like Bergin, commuting to an office no longer meant more time to walk, eating less and more control over what she ate.

But for others, being stuck at home meant moving less and eating more because of stress, anxiety, depression – or just proximity to the kitchen.

The weight change spectrum underscores the complexity of being overweight, including how important a person’s circumstances may be in their health, said Karen H. Yeary, an obesity researcher at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, NY. is just a matter of willpower, she said.

“It takes a lot of strength and energy to eat healthy and then lose weight,” Yeary said.

Another reason to tackle obesity is so difficult: Weight gain often happens slowly over the years, making it easier to dismiss as a health problem. In the United States, one in four adults is considered overweight and one in three is overweight.

It is often only with a major health threat, such as a heart attack or a noticeable deterioration in lifestyle, that people are motivated to lose weight, said Eric Plaisance, an obesity researcher at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

And although the pandemic highlighted the risk of obesity, he said people were already used to hearing about how unhealthy it is to be overweight.

“It usually takes a much bigger, life-changing event on a personal level,” he said of what often triggers successful weight loss for people.

That was the case for Mickey Beatima, a 29-year-old Seattle resident who began trying to lose weight a few months before the pandemic when his diabetes led to eye problems.

“It really hit me,” said Beatima, who is 5 feet, 8 inches tall and has gone from about 300 pounds to 170 pounds.

The pandemic accelerated his efforts by making weight loss easier. He no longer got takeaway, went out with friends or gathered with his family for their usual parties.

He also found solace in dancing to YouTube videos and was motivated by the knowledge that getting healthier would reduce his risk of severe COVID-19.

“If I had to get it and I was still 300, I think it would be far more struggle than if I got it today,” Beatima said.

Christian Hainds, a 42-year-old resident of Hammond, Indiana, also lost about 50 pounds during the pandemic, and at 180 pounds and 5 feet, 11 inches tall is no longer considered overweight.

His weight had come up over the years and peaked at around 230 pounds. But it was only when he was diagnosed as diabetic around the start of the pandemic that he felt it was urgent to make changes – especially when data emerged that it was one of the conditions that was more likely to lead to severe coronavirus disease.

“All of these long-term scary things that can happen due to obesity no longer became long-term concerns,” Hainds said.

For many others, the spotlight that the pandemic puts on risks of obesity has faded as vaccines and treatments have dampened the threat of the virus, obesity researcher Yeary said. It can lessen the feeling of urgency that helped motivate some people. The circumstances of the pandemic that made weight loss easier for some – more time for long walks, eating less – are also going away.

Beatima, for example, spends more time with her family again and has put some emphasis on again. But he’s not worried about what tracks his overall fitness goals because he said the pandemic gave him perspective on how his weight was tied to what he valued, such as being healthy enough to spend time with his nieces and nephews for many years to come.

“The new reason is to understand the value of my physical health, my social health and my mental health,” he said.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.


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