Americans exercised less, drank and smoked more during COVID pandemic

Americans exercised less, drank and smoked more during COVID pandemic

During the pandemic, U.S. adults have on average exercised less, drank and smoked more, and spent more time in front of computer or TV screens, according to a study published Tuesday.

UCLA researchers surveyed American adults in October 2020 about five “lifestyle behaviors”: exercise time, screen time, fast food consumption, alcohol drinking and cigarette smoking.

Compared with before the COVID-19 pandemic, exercise time decreased by 31%, screen time increased by 60%, alcohol consumption increased by 23%, and smoking by 9%.

Researchers noted the surveys were done in October, so results may only reflect lifestyle changes at that point in time during the pandemic.

Jian Li, professor of environmental health sciences at UCLA, said in a statement measures and recommendations to reduce COVID-19’s spread were “vital.” However, those measures resulted in a “profound change in normal daily activities.”

Average fast food consumption, dropped from 1.41 times per week before the pandemic to 0.96 times a week. But while 77% of those surveyed reduced or didn’t change their fast food consumption, 23% saw an increase in the fast food they ate, according to the study.

This was likely due to stay-at-home orders and the closing of many fast-food restaurants during the pandemic, Liwei Chen, UCLA associate professor of epidemiology and lead author of the study, said in the statement.

The study’s findings align with previous research in Canada, Italy, Brazil and Poland that observed unhealthy lifestyle changes during the pandemic, researchers said.

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Black and Hispanic Americans were more likely to have undesired changes in exercise, screen time, fast food consumption and alcohol drinking compared with white Americans, according to the study. Native Americans were also more likely to see drops in exercise time and increases in fast food consumption.

“As bad as these changes have been for all Americans, they disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S., who already bear a higher disease burden from COVID-19,” Chen said in the statement.

Researchers said this impact on communities of color is consistent with previous research showing the “disproportionate exposure to and suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic by these groups.”

Compared to older adults aged 60 and over, younger adults between ages 18 and 29 were also more likely to see dips in exercise time and increases in fast food, alcohol and cigarette consumption, according to the study.

“Future lifestyle interventions might become more effective if they can target these high-risk subgroups who are more likely to be disproportionately impacted,” researchers said in the study.

The increase in sedentary behavior and other negative lifestyle impacts are worth paying attention to, researchers said.

“Whether these persisted as the pandemic continued, and whether individual’s quality of life and health well-being are subsequently affected, has to be studied,” Li said. “But it is clear that resources and support that can help people maintain healthy lifestyles, during the pandemic and afterwards, are urgently needed.”

UCLA also released a guide in August on how to assess alcohol consumption during the pandemic and make changes. The guide encouraged asking simple questions about personal alcohol use and setting concrete goals when trying to decrease alcohol consumption.

Contact News Now Reporter Christine Fernando at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.

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