I learned a disturbing fact during a pre-Thanksgiving visit I had with Espyr’s fine team of professional health coaches. This team of health and fitness experts provides guidance, support, and accountability for employees of organizations that value the health and fitness of their workers. This includes groups like the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and numerous transportation industry clients. The coaches informed me that an unanticipated consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a national weight gain. And for those who are diagnosed with COVID-19, weight gain can slow their recovery, contribute to complications, and generally increase their risk of death from the disease.
This weight gain has occurred in an America that was already overweight. On average the additional pandemic weight gain has been 16 pounds. Surveys indicate that around three fourths of Americans gained weight during the pandemic and many were trying to shed that weight just as the holiday feasting season arrived. That’s a big challenge!
Negative Health Consequences of Weight Gain
We all know that overweight people are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, coronary diseases, sleep problems, diabetes, and many other negative health consequences. Long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) repeatedly warned us that America’s obesity rate (defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more) was increasing. By this definition, 42% of Americans were classified as obese pre-pandemic.
The annual medical cost for obese people is $1,429 higher than non-obese people. That equates to hundreds of billions of dollars of healthcare costs associated with obesity. This health condition, like many others, is preventable and is directly related to modifiable human behaviors. Employers, taxpayers, and consumers pay this enormous financial bill, while those suffering from obesity pay with poor health and early death. So, the additional pandemic weight gain became a type of “surge upon the surge” to humbly borrow a phrase from Dr. Fauci.
Factors That Create Weight Gain
It’s not surprising that Americans have gained weight in 2020. The pandemic has created a perfect combination of factors to create weight gain. These factors include reduced access to the many routine ways we comfort or care for ourselves. Working out at fitness centers, socialization with friends and family, visiting restaurants and bars, participating in sports, viewing live entertainment and sporting events, and many other formerly routine activities have been sharply curtailed if not eliminated all together. At the same time, the pandemic has made eating – and often eating not so healthy foods – an easily accessible way to provide gratification, reward, and comfort.
Significance of Pandemic Psychology
Eating is not the only way people seek gratification and comfort during times of stress. Have you noticed that more people have started holiday decorating early this year? This early decorating is not because of holiday season creep. Like overeating, it’s another consequence of pandemic psychology. Early decorating helps hasten the fulfillment of the wish of getting to a normal holiday season – at least in appearance. It also gives people a sense of control and certainty in an unusual, uncontrollable and anxiety-filled environment. You can expect to see the same behavior in robust holiday sales as pandemic weary consumers splurge on themselves and others as a deserving reward for surviving a tortuous 2020.
Employers Can Offer Resources to Help Retain Employees
For employers, there is an occupational aspect to all of this that calls for leadership among the business community. This is especially true for employers of workers who must achieve and maintain fitness standards to keep their jobs. It’s a concern beyond just the human suffering and the healthcare costs – it’s a concern about the retention of good employees.
In the transportation industry for example, the pandemic brought on a federal moratorium of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s required medical examinations that ensure professional drivers of tractor-trailers and buses are healthy enough to be safe on the highways. That moratorium is not continuing in 2021 and expectations are that there will be a wave of drivers who fail to pass their medical exams.
Professional drivers – even in the best of times – are chronically exposed to dangerously high levels of stress during their often 11 hours of driving each day. They manage and master a sedentary job with limited exercise, poor opportunities for restorative sleep and rest, constant loneliness and restricted social supports, and rest stops full of unhealthy food choices. Additional weight gains of even a few pounds during the pandemic can mean professional drivers don’t pass their medical exams. If they don’t pass, they lose their job, their family’s economic security is imperiled, and their employer loses a skilled driver in an industry with a chronic driver shortage. Similar risks exist in law enforcement.
All this makes right now a good time for any employer to examine the resources they can offer employees to help them get fitter and then make sure employees are aware of these resources.
Resolve To Lose The Weight Gain In 2021
The holiday season is a very challenging time to lose extra weight. Many Americans are finding that out this week. For many of us, health coaches can be very effective in helping those who want to get serious about trimming those pandemic and holiday weight gains. But whatever weight reduction method works for you, if you’ve adding a few extra pounds (or more) this year, start the new year right and shed those extra pounds. Medical professionals tell us that even a small change in weight can have positive health consequences.
About the Author
Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.
For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.
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