Stress study highlights pandemic induced lifestyle changes

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Posted at 6:41 AM, Mar 11, 2021

A new study is highlighting how much the pandemic has affected Americans through their lifestyle habits.

The American Psychological Association published a report Thursday titled "Stress in America." It compiled data from an online survey conducted by the Harris Poll in late February. More than 3,000 people answered questions about how stress lead to undesired changes in weight, alcohol consumption, and sleeping patterns.

Undesired weight changes
Since the pandemic started, 61 percent of U.S. adults said they either gained or lost too much weight. Forty-two percent said they gained more weight than intended, with 10 percent saying it was more than 50 pounds. The average weight gain was 29 pounds. Those changes could put people at a higher risk for more serious complications from COVID-19, according to the APA. For the 18 percent of people who said they lost more weight than they wanted to, the average loss was 26 pounds. Some side effects associated with unhealthy weight loss include a compromised immune system and lower energy levels.

Alcohol consumption
About a quarter of Americans reported drinking more alcohol to cope with stress-- particularly parents with kids under 18. Nearly half said they started drinking more when the pandemic began. Many kids were at home more when schools shifted to online learning. Parents were also more likely to report seeking help for mental health, than adults without children. Essential workers also struggled with mental health. Seventy-five percent said they were in need of more emotional support as a result of the pandemic.

Changes in sleeping patterns
Two-thirds of Americans in the APA survey said they have been sleeping more or less than they want to since the pandemic began. Hispanic adults were the most likely to say this at 78 percent. Black adults weren't far behind, with 76 percent reporting. Too much and too little sleep can both contribute to weight gain, and impact mental health.

Officials with the APA are calling for change after seeing the results of the study.

“We’ve been concerned throughout this pandemic about the level of prolonged stress, exacerbated by the grief, trauma and isolation that Americans are experiencing. This survey reveals a secondary crisis that is likely to have persistent, serious mental and physical health consequences for years to come,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr, PhD, APA’s chief executive officer. “Health and policy leaders must come together quickly to provide additional behavioral health supports as part of any national recovery plan.”