One in three Australians have gained weight during the pandemic

Matt Woodley

28/01/2021 4:35:42 PM

Australia also led the world in terms of increased alcohol consumption, according to the results from a new Ipsos survey.

Legs of young woman standing on scales.
Around 35% of Australians respondents gained weight during the pandemic, slightly higher than the global average.

The findings, based on an online survey that looked at the impact of COVID-19 on diet across 30 countries, showed 35% of Australians have gained weight, despite many being aware of the growing link between obesity and severity of coronavirus symptoms.
However, while as many as one in three Australians believe there is a ‘clear’ link between obesity and COVID disease severity, this is lower than the global average of 45%.
According to Ipsos Australia Director, David Elliott, it ‘isn’t surprising’ that one third of Australians surveyed reported weight gain during the pandemic.
‘Anecdotally, we have heard lots of stories and discussion about weight gain – a quick flick through your social media account and friends’ feeds showed stories of weight gain and support for those reporting it,’ he said.
‘Interestingly, one of the key findings in the Australian data was the low level of awareness of the link between obesity and the severity of COVID symptoms. This may be because much of the discussion around COVID-19 has been around preventing transmission.
‘Ultimately, the fact we’ve been lucky with a low spread of the virus has meant the conversation has never really progressed to how to reduce the severity of symptoms.’
Dr Georgia Rigas, RACGP Specific Interests Obesity Management network Chair, previously wrote in newsGP that there is a growing body of evidence that has identified obesity as a risk factor for more severe COVID-19 illness and death.
According to Dr Rigas, people with obesity:

  • have a higher risk of acquiring COVID-19 due to an impaired host response
  • may exhibit greater viral shedding if they acquire COVID-19, which suggests potential for great viral exposure, especially if several family members have overweight or obesity
  • who are younger than 60 and have acquired COVID-19 are at increased risk of requiring hospital admission
  • who acquire COVID-19 have worse health outcomes, ie increased morbidity (requiring assisted ventilation etc) and increased mortality.
 In addition, people with the highest body mass index (BMI) are more often seen in critical cases and non-survivors.
Globally, 31% of people reported gaining weight since the onset of the pandemic, but with considerable differences based on countries – more than half of people in Chile and Brazil gained weight, compared to less than one in 10 in China and Hong Kong.
Half of those surveyed admitted to struggling with their weight, with two-thirds (66%) saying they had been trying to lose weight gained prior to the pandemic.
The most common methods for losing weight were exercising more (56%), followed by dieting (53%) and eating more healthily (51%). Only 10% of those trying to lose weight said they were doing it to reduce the risk of COVID-19.
One in five (19%) Australians reported losing weight during the pandemic, which is in line with the global average (20%).
In terms of reducing the severity of coronavirus symptoms, twice as many Australians said they thought exercise was more important than weight loss (31% vs 15%).
Consuming more alcohol was another key change for many people during the pandemic; the 21% of Australians who said they had started drinking more alcohol is more than double the global average (10%), while only 8% said they drank less – in line with the global average of 9%.
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