Mental health challenges during pandemic related to weight gain in people with obesity, study finds


A new study found that people with obesity who struggled with stress, anxiety, and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic reported the highest levels of weight gain.

The study was published in the journal, Obesity and led by Jaime Almandoz, MD, associate professor of internal medicine in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of Texas. According to the study, during the first year of the pandemic, patients with obesity gained more than five percent of their body weight and one in seven gained 10 percent. In this study, Almandoz and his colleagues set out to understand how mental health contributed to weight gain in people with obesity.

For the investigation, researchers surveyed 404 people between March and November 2021. All participants were being treated for obesity at one of three clinics in Dallas for at least two years before the study and had a body mass index (BMI) of at least 30.

The study’s results showed that on average respondents gained 4.3 percent of their body weight during the trial period. One third of the participants gained over five percent of their body weight, some gaining over 80 pounds. In addition, researchers found that those who ate less healthy, slept less, and exercised less were more likely to gain weight. Those who reported the highest levels of stress, anxiety, and depression gained the most amount of weight, according to the study.

“Our findings underscore the complexity of obesity; it’s not just about telling people to eat less and move more,” said Almandoz. “There’s a mental health aspect that has to be integrated into treating the whole person as well.”

According to Almandoz, these results may encourage practitioners to screen patients for mental health problems when a patient has gained weight and incorporate mental health treatments into their care.