Study calls on public health officials to address the fitness dilemma

Lauren Raine, assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences and the Department of Medical Sciences at the Center for Cognitive and Brain Health, examines how the Covid pandemic has affected the body mass index of pre-teens and older adults, in particular ISEC building. Credits: Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The term “pandemic pounds” had already been coined when Lauren Raine and colleagues reopened their lab at Northeastern’s Center for Cognitive and Brain Health to participants in August 2020.

Still, they were surprised by the stark differences a few months of isolation had caused in the fitness of children and adults they studied as part of a federal brain health research project.

“It was only four to five months (isolation) and people were drastically different,” says Raine.

She led a team of researchers in quantifying the results for a study published in Frontiers in public health that documented increases in the body mass index of participant groups studied before and during COVID shutdowns, as well as decreases in their cardiovascular fitness.

“I don’t think we fully appreciated the impact” of the closures, when gyms were closed and even parks were cordoned off with warning tape, says Raine, an assistant professor whose co-authors are Northeastern’s Arthur Kramer and Charles Hillman.

Steps taken to reduce people’s exposure to the novel coronavirus may have inadvertently lowered their physical activity levels to the point of unhealthiness, says Raine, who works in the Department of Physical Therapy, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences and the Department of Medical Science.

“People in the physical therapy department will tell you that if you stop exercising, you see a decline very quickly,” she says.

“But people in the general population might say, ‘Who cares if I sit for two weeks?'” says Raine. “It’s a big problem.”

Cardiovascular fitness, measured while participants exercised on a treadmill, showed levels dropped by 30% for older adults. For children, the decline was even worse: 53%.

Her study compared the aerobic capacity and body mass index of 493 adults aged 65-80 before the pandemic with 100 adults in that age range during the pandemic.

The kids were all within an hour’s drive of Boston, while the adults were at three locations in Boston, Kansas, and Pittsburgh, Raine says.

Body mass index also rose in both age groups, she says.

In older adults, it went from 29.5 to 31.3, which is “definitely an increase,” says Raine.

In children, BMI went from 18 to 19.3, but she says it’s difficult to judge the significance of those gains due to children’s rapid growth and changing body composition.

What’s concerning is that previous reports indicate that kids in the heaviest weight categories seem to suffer the most from the BMI increases, and “our data is consistent with that,” says Raine.

Joint ongoing research measures health statistics of the two age groups for physical activity and brain health research.

Americans — old and young — were highly overweight and obese before the pandemic, she points out, adding that public health strategies should emphasize not only regaining, but catching up on lost ground.

“We need to have some public health strategies in place to help people get back on track,” says Raine.

And before the next pandemic appears on the horizon, plans should be in place to prevent loss of fitness, says Raine.

It won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution, she says.

Some families have access to online exercise classes, others don’t, says Raine. “We just have to be creative and thoughtful.”

More information:
Lauren B. Raine et al, Cardiorespiratory fitness levels and body mass index of preadolescent children and older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic, Frontiers in public health (2023). DOI: 10.3389/fpubh.2022.1052389

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Quote: Pandemic Pounds Are Real: Research Calls on Public Health Officials to Address the Fitness Dilemma (2023, March 13) Retrieved March 17, 2023 from dilemma.html

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Study calls on public health officials to address the fitness dilemma

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