Remote work weight gain may lead to worsening COVID symptoms, scientist warns

GLASGOW, Scotland — Remote work is not only becoming the “new normal,” many employees now prefer to stay at home full-time. Unfortunately, researchers find that this desk-bound lifestyle is causing many workers to pack on the pounds during the pandemic. Weight gain due to remote work poses a big health risk, a cardiovascular expert warns, but getting out more could be key to beating it.

Professor Naveed Sattar from the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences believes many people have seen their step count fall drastically due to no longer commuting to work or walking around offices. Additional studies show that obesity can directly impact the severity of COVID infections and underlying chronic illnesses can worsen due to piling on the pounds in lockdown.

Fighting the inactivity of remote work

However, there may be an easy fix. Sattar says getting out more and staying active is an easy way to reduce this risk.

“While a big health issue going forward is long COVID, population-wide changes in weight gain are starting to emerge strongly,” Prof. Sattar tells SWNS in a statement. “I see it in our clinics and when we speak to people, and one of the biggest drivers for that is people’s activity levels have plummeted because working from home means they are not having that regular commute.”

“We have all massively underestimated how much commuting people did even if they drove in a car – going to work you are parking the car and they might walk 10 minutes dropping it off and walking back, you are walking around work,” the professor adds. “I have had patients who have just basically sat on the computer all day for work, and some individuals whose average step count was around 1,000 per day which is nothing – the equivalent of ten minutes walking a day.”

Remote workers are losing thousands of steps each day

Sattar notes that remote workers would normally be taking between 6,000 and 7,000 steps a day “without even thinking about it” while commuting between work. Now, many employees may be going from a bed to a nearby desk without ever moving again for the rest of the day.

“It is a major problem because if the population on average is gaining one or two kilograms, it might not seem a lot, but it is probably driven by a sub-population that has put on half a stone – that is going to lead to more diabetes, high blood pressure, heart and lung disease,” Prof. Sattar tells SWNS.

“It is going to accelerate many of the conditions that obesity is associated with and that will place even greater burden on the NHS, where a lot of people who have chronic illnesses haven’t presented because of the pandemic.”

Obesity epidemic may worsen the pandemic

His report, which is set for publication, states that evidence from multiple sources now links morbid obesity to risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes. Many conditions with a connection to worsening COVID-19 symptoms, such as type 2 diabetes and chronic lung disease, also display a strong link to excess obesity.

“Change in life circumstances is accelerating weight gain in many in the population. All of these facts mean that governments around the world, and particularly where obesity levels are already high, need to prioritize obesity prevention and management efforts,” Prof. Sattar explains.

“Any initiatives that allows people to be more active, to be outside and find other things to occupy their mind, is welcome. Culture and leisure are vehicles to help people get out the door, walk and enjoy new things in new, fresh environments. People have got to enjoy their lives – culture and leisure is part of enjoying their lives – and helping them to be more physically active,” the researcher concludes.

“We need, particularly in the less affluent areas of our society, to engage and help people find the things that are going to make their lives a bit more enjoyable, to help widen horizons. Going to a museum, walking around a museum for an hour – that is a lot of steps. You have to get to the museum, walk around it, looking at new things – it is a win win.”

Report by South West News Service writers Sarah Ward and Deborah Anderson