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Most people who read this website on a regular basis have been spending their time in quarantine wisely by picking up some home gym equipment, switching to bodyweight or resistance band routines, or simply just eating healthy while many gyms and fitness studios around the country remain closed.
But according to a group of Danish researchers, those people are in the minority. Researchers from the University of Copenhagen and Aarhus University fear that prolonged Covid-19 lockdowns—utilized by world leaders to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus—will lead to an epidemic of a different kind: obesity.
There are already 650 million adults worldwide who are obese, according to the World Health Organization. Obesity can increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.
“We are concerned that policymakers do not fully understand how strategies such as lockdowns and business closures could fuel the rise of obesity — a chronic disease with severe health implications, but with few reliable treatment options,” Associate Professor Christoffer Clemmensen, from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research (CBMR), at the University of Copenhagen, said in a statement.
In a letter published in the journal Nature Reviews Endocrinology, the researchers outlined how the lockdowns could worsen the obesity epidemic. It begins with the fact that many businesses—such as gyms, movie theaters, and bars— have had to close their doors and put their staff on furlough. The economic hardship has also led to layoffs at several major companies throughout the world.
Those people are likely to turn to cheap, ultra-processed foods because they’re affordable. These foods are often laden with added sugars and trans fats, which can lead to poor health conditions and weight gain.
Social distancing from our friends and family can also lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, which people might combat by overeating or consuming unhealthy comfort foods.
The researchers urge government leaders to construct social support networks when considering the use of a lockdown to contain the coronavirus to ensure people are staying healthy while remaining Covid-free.
“One challenge is that it might be difficult to build the required support structures after the fact, and it might be difficult to fully contain the potential obesity-related effects of a lockdown,” the researchers write in their letter. “Accordingly, when considering the use of lockdowns in the future, the potential adverse consequence on metabolic health should be taken into account.”