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Local health officials see rise in obesity during pandemic

Published: Mar. 31, 2021 at 6:33 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Area health leaders are concerned about a rise in obesity cases since the start of the pandemic. Linn County Public Health says there are a number of factors contributing to the increase such as financial challenges, food insecurity and stress.

“There’s gym closures, there’s school closures, people are not as active as they were before,” said Dr. Sajida Ahad, Director of Bariatric Surgery at Mercy Medical Center.

At Profile by Sanford, members are given meal plans and lifestyle coaching. Staff in Cedar Rapids have watched the need for their services grow over the last year.

“It’s definitely been difficult with both emotional eating, but also being at home you have easy access to a ton of food throughout the day,” said Lindsey Youngwirth, Manager of the Profile by Sanford store in Cedar Rapids.

Dr. Ahad told KCRG-TV9 that studies have shown on average people are gaining 1.5 pounds a month during the pandemic, and that’s just based off those enrolled in research studies. She explained it’s likely even more than that.

“We are probably seeing just the tip of the iceberg and people who are not actively watching their weight probably have it much worse than a pound and a half per month,” Ahad said.

People with a BMI over 30 are considered obese and are at higher risk for health issues like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and sleep apnea. They’re also typically worse off if they get COVID-19.

“They have a higher risk of ending up on mechanical ventilation and a higher risk of dying from the disease,” Ahad told us.

It’s all the more reason to try and live a healthy lifestyle, despite a year of uncertainty.

“Find different outlets for that emotional eating you could do things like going for a walk, calling a friend, anything else besides going towards that snack,” Youngwirth recommended.

Linn County Public Health told KCRG-TV9 they are focusing on obesity as one of the top three health priorities for the county. Some of the initiatives include implementing 5-2-1-0 in schools and childcare centers and adopting Healthy Hometown plans in Cedar Rapids and Marion as well as exploring the idea in Mount Vernon. There are also local efforts in place to address food insecurity such as HACAP, Feed Iowa First and Matthew 25.

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