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Pandemic Stress Has Americans Gaining Weight, Drinking More: Poll
  • Robert Preidt
  • Posted March 11, 2021

Pandemic Stress Has Americans Gaining Weight, Drinking More: Poll

If you're drinking more, sleeping less, seeing downright scary numbers on your scale and fretting about the future, you're far from alone, a new survey reveals.

"We've been concerned throughout this pandemic about the level of prolonged stress, exacerbated by the grief, trauma and isolation that Americans are experiencing," said Arthur Evans Jr., chief executive officer of the American Psychological Association (APA), sponsor of the Stress in America poll.

"This survey reveals a secondary crisis that is likely to have persistent, serious mental and physical health consequences for years to come," he said in an association news release.

To find out how Americans have been coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, APA surveyed more than 3,000 adults online Feb. 19-24.

While most are struggling one way or another, parents, essential workers and members of minority groups have been particularly hard-hit, the survey revealed.

Since the pandemic began, 6 in 10 respondents said they have had undesired weight changes, with 42% gaining more than intended -- about 29 pounds on average. Of those who gained, half put on at least 15 pounds and 1 in 10 gained more than 50. Meanwhile, 18% said they dropped more weight than they wanted to, and average loss was 26 pounds.

Shut-eye is suffering and alcohol use is on the rise. Two-thirds of respondents are sleeping more or less than they'd like, and nearly 1 in 4 have been drinking more to cope with their stress.

While 3 in 10 said their mental health had nosedived, this was especially true among parents. Nearly half (47%) of mothers and 30% of fathers who still have children at home for remote learning reported worsening mental health.

Compared to adults with no children, parents were more likely to have been diagnosed and treated for a mental health disorder.

The struggles were pronounced among minority groups: Hispanic adults were most likely to report unwanted changes in sleep, physical activity and weight. Black Americans were most likely to report concern about the future, and more than half said they don't feel comfortable living life the way they did before the pandemic.

Americans from all groups are wary about resuming in-person interactions once the pandemic ends. That includes 57% of Black respondents, 51% of Asians, 50% of Hispanics and 47% of white respondents.

And adults who have received the COVID-19 vaccine are just as likely to be hesitant about the future than those who have not.

Meanwhile, the pandemic continues to take a heavy toll on essential workers, such as those in health care and law enforcement. More than half (54%) said they'd adopted unhealthy habits to help them cope with COVID-related stress. Nearly 3 in 10 said their mental health had worsened, and 3 in 4 said they could have used more emotional support.

Compared to other adults, essential workers were also more than twice as likely to have received a mental health diagnosis and treatment since the pandemic started.

Evans said the findings are a call to action.

"Health and policy leaders must come together quickly to provide additional behavioral health supports as part of any national recovery plan," Evans said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on mental health and coping during the COVID-19 pandemic.

SOURCE: American Psychological Association, news release, March 11, 2021

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