During the early months of the pandemic, alcohol consumption rose...

During the early months of the pandemic, alcohol consumption rose and contributed to widespread weight gain, a study shows. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Closed offices. Shuttered gyms. Overstocked refrigerators and enough alcohol to ease the stress of a pandemic that would seemingly never end.

The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic had all the ingredients needed to create an unhealthy population.

A new report released Monday by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine confirmed that adults — between 25% and 33% according to three different studies and surveys — packed on significant weight in the spring and summer of 2020, with some gaining more than four pounds per month.

The report found that U.S. obesity rates worsened from pre-pandemic levels because of increased snacking and alcohol intake and decreased physical activity, along with higher stress levels and lower smoking rates, which can often trigger weight gains.

       WHAT TO KNOW   

  • A study found that a majority of Americans gained weight during the pandemic, thanks to a combination of stress, increased alchohol use, lack of physical exercise and other factors.
  • Experts say many are trying to lose the weight now, returning to the gym and exercising outdoors in the warmer weather.
  • As COVID-19 cases slowly rise again, the state has put out public service ads encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated.

"Significant changes in several obesity-related risk indicators were observed," the report found. "Higher rates of alcohol consumption and lower smoking rates may have contributed to higher obesity prevalence rates. Indeed, higher alcohol intake has been shown to be a risk factor for obesity in some adults, particularly when it is not compensated for through reductions in intake of other calorie-dense foods and beverages."

"Continued surveillance of obesity prevalence rates and obesity-related risk factors can help to inform policy that is designed to mitigate the health and economic burdens of obesity," the authors wrote.

Stephanie Di Figlia-Peck, a dietitian at Cohen Children's Medical Center, said the findings were not surprising as many people were unable to get the amount of physical activity during the lockdowns that they would typically find before the pandemic. 

"Overall we have seen that during the pandemic a majority of people gained weight and it is an energy-balance equation of less calories being expended and more calories coming in, whether from food, baking more or alcohol intake," Di Figlia-Peck said. "It's a combination of factors. And higher stress levels do lead people to seek comfort food or have more alcohol."

The weight gain, she said, appears to have leveled off and many of her clients appear more motivated to loss those extra pounds, particularly with the weather getting warmer and outdoor activities more readily available.

Better eating habits, more exercise and drinking more water will help take off the pounds, Di Figlia-Peck said, but it won't be easy.

"We have to be cognizant that … it's easy to gain weight and not and not so easy to lose," she said. "It's an uphill battle for some people who have put on extra weight. It's not going to come off as easy as it came on."

Dr. Eve Meltzer-Krief, a pediatrician with Huntington Village Pediatrics, Allied...

Dr. Eve Meltzer-Krief, a pediatrician with Huntington Village Pediatrics, Allied Physicians Group, in a public service ad encouragiing the vaccination of children against the coronavirus.  Credit: governor.ny.gov

Meanwhile, Gov. Kathy Hochul Monday announced the launch of a new television ad campaign featuring area pediatricians, including one from Long Island, talking about how they got their children vaccinated against COVID and urging parents to do the same.

Across the state, nearly 73% of adolescents ages 12-17 are fully vaccinated but that figure drops to 36% for children ages 5-11, according to State Health Department data.

"This new media campaign will help ensure parents are hearing directly from pediatricians and trusted health care providers, so they know just how critical it is to get their children vaccinated," Hochul, who received her second COVID booster shot Monday, said in a statement.

The 30- and 60-second TV spots began airing Monday and will run for several weeks.

"I always tell parents I vaccinated my children as soon as I possibly could," Dr. Eve Meltzer-Krief, a pediatrician at Huntington said in the ad. "As soon as it was available to them."

The state's COVID-19 positivity rate continued to inch up Sunday to 2.95% on a seven-day average. Long Island's seven-day positivity rate as of Sunday was 3.13%. There were 161 new cases in Nassau and 143 in Suffolk on Sunday, according to Health Department data, and 11 COVID-19 deaths statewide, including two in Suffolk.

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