The Corner

Health Care

Study: Americans Increased Unhealthy Habits During Lockdowns

(Motortion/Getty Images)

We’ve already seen plenty of evidence that restrictions imposed by governments to curtail the spread of coronavirus have worsened America’s obesity epidemic, particularly among children. This is even worse than you might think, given that obesity both makes one likelier to suffer seriously from coronavirus, and likelier to die from it.

A recent UCLA study adds more data to the health effects of lockdowns. “Changes of Exercise, Screen Time, Fast Food Consumption, Alcohol, and Cigarette Smoking during the COVID-19 Pandemic among Adults in the United States,” published in the current edition of the peer-reviewed Nutrients magazine, surveyed Americans about their health habits in October of last year. It found that, among those surveyed, “the time spent on exercise decreased by 31.2%, while screen time increased by 60.4%. Alcohol consumption increased by 23.2% and smoking by 9%.” Oddly, it also found that fast-food consumption decreased; one researcher involved with the study attributed this to stay-at-home orders and closure of fast-food restaurants.

Those involved with the study add a few caveats. One seems reasonable to me: the fact that it was conducted in October of last year, during a particularly intense period for coronavirus, and at a time when we didn’t have vaccines. The hope is that things have gotten better restriction-wise since then, and that people have begun to shed their unhealthier habits. Another caveat seems less reasonable to me, however. Dr. Jian Li, a study co-author, admits that restrictions had negative health effects, but nonetheless states that they “are vital to reduce human-to-human infection of COVID-19.”

This mindset is a reflection of the sort of monomaniacal attitude that public-health “experts” decided to take toward coronavirus. It was essentially identified as the only health problem worth addressing. But one can identify coronavirus as a serious problem without letting it crowd out all other health concerns. Indeed, in the case of lockdowns, it seems obvious that this singlemindedness actually made the pandemic worse, as excessive restrictions encouraged sedentary behaviors that made people more susceptible to serious cases. This is just one reason why lockdowns of the extent and duration we saw in the U.S. deserve to be remembered as a mistake — perhaps an understandable one, at first, but a mistake all the same.

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