Studies Show Obesity, Alcoholism and Suicidal Thoughts Are On the Rise As COVID Shutdowns Linger

Brittany M. Hughes | August 14, 2020
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New studies and polls on the effect of the COVID-19 shutdowns show that while the coronavirus may cause all kinds of nasty effects – un to and including death in some – the impact of the economic shutdown are, in some cases, just as awful.

According to one study, experts say obesity is on the rise for a number of reasons, including quarantine boredom, the lack of places to exercise at home, and because many have found themselves unemployed and financially strained, leading to their eating cheaper and more processed foods. Combined with the stress of staying socially distant from friends and family, some are turning to food for comfort.

“It is likely that more people will turn to these forms of food, as more people lose their jobs and experience economic hardship,” explains study co-author Professor Michael Bang Petersen, from the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University.

Researchers say they don’t believe lawmakers are taking the health toll of obesity into account when making decisions over the pandemic.

“We are concerned that policy makers 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,” says Associate Professor Christoffer Clemmensen, from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research (CBMR), in a release.

Another study found that a full 25 percent of young adults between 18 and 24 say they’ve considered suicide in the past month due to the effects of the pandemic and subsequent shutdown. Nearly one-third of unpaid caregivers, such as stay at home moms and those caring for relatives, say they’ve had suicidal thoughts, along with one in five essential workers.

Also causing concern is data showing the sale of alcohol has risen 27 percent since the start of the pandemic, leading many medical officials to fear that people are turning to unhealthy drinking habits to cope, a problem that can contribute to obesity and heart, blood pressure and liver problems, among others.

“Any increases in alcohol use during the pandemic could be a cause for concern, particularly if the increases stem from an attempt to cope with negative emotions associated with the crisis," Dr. George F. Koob, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, told USA TODAY. 

Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, assistant secretary at Department of Health and Human Services and head of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, said back in May that the number of people seeking treatment for alcohol-related problems has risen in areas most heavily impacted by COVID.