They urged governments and decision makers to consider what impact COVID-19 containment strategies, such as lockdowns, will have on the public's metabolic health.
Lockdown measures enforced in many countries around the world to curb the COVID-19 pandemic may escalate emotional stress, economic anxiety, and increase the rates of obesity across the population, according to a research which calls for socioeconomic safety nets and community support networks to mitigate these effects.
According to the scientists, including those from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, locking down society to combat COVID-19 creates psychosocial insecurity that may lead to obesity.
The review of studies, published in the journal Nature Reviews Endocrinology, noted that counter measures are needed to keep the public both metabolically healthy and safe from the coronavirus.
It said the rates of obesity may explode because of measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, adding that investment in obesity research will help inform counter strategies.
“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,” said study co-author Christoffer Clemmensen from the University of Copenhagen.
In the research, Clemmensen and his team outlined how COVID-19 containment strategies could increase rates of obesity.
They said people with limited economic resources are more likely to eat highly-processed and energy-rich food, which have been shown to stimulate appetite, potentially leading to them eating more calories than they need.
“It is likely that more people will turn to these forms of food, as more people lose their jobs and experience economic hardship,” said study co-author Michael Bang Petersen from Aarhus University in Denmark.
The scientists added that physical distancing also increases anxiety by limiting people’s ability to socially interact.
They said feelings of loneliness and isolation, combined with confinement within a home setting, can impact food behaviour, causing people to overeat.
This effect, according to the research, is compounded by lower levels of physical activity, as people are urged to work from home and venture out as little as possible.
“Given our review of the potential pathways, however, we expect an emphasis on socioeconomic safety nets and community support networks to be key,” the scientists wrote in the study.
Thorkild I.A. Sorensen, another co-author of the study from the University of Copenhagen, said scientists still do not exactly understand how a person’s mental health and economic status end up increasing the risk of one developing obesity.
“We know that there are links between obesity and a person’s class and mental health, but we don’t exactly understand how they make an impact,” Sorensen said.
According to the researchers, more studies are needed to uncover the cause and effect behind this process.
But the scientists emphasised that physical distancing and the rising rates of unemployment could lead to increased rates of obesity.
They urged governments and decision makers to consider what impact COVID-19 containment strategies, such as lockdowns, will have on the public’s metabolic health.