Australians gained average of three kilograms over pandemic, new data shows

By Remy Varga, Reporter for the The Australian Newspaper

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Australians have gained on average three kilograms during the pandemic, with the stress of Covid-19 increasing blood pressure and causing smoking rates to rise.

New data released by SiSU Health shows Australia collectively put on more than 40,000kg between May 2019 and May 2021, based on the cohort surveyed.

More than half of respondents had a body mass index – used to assess whether weight is in a healthy range for your height – greater than 25, which is considered overweight.

The new data shows the weight gain continued from winter 2020 through summer 2021, going against seasonal patterns of gain in the colder months and loss in the warmer months.

SiSU Health founder and managing director Dr Noel Duncan said it was important to keep moving during periods of restricted activity when incidental activity decreased, with the increased weight heightening the risk of type 2 diabetes.

“Certainly with Sydney going into lockdown over the next two-weeks, that incidental activity of walking to the train station, of walking to the office and catching up with a friend at a coffee shop … all that incidental activity just drops away,” he said.

People in the top and bottom BMI bands experienced the greatest weight gains as a percentage of their total weight.

The deidentified data, collected from more than three million digital health checks completed at stations in Priceline chemists across Australia, also found the number of people suffering from high blood pressure jumped 18.4 per cent over the lockdown period.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, increases the risk of potentially lethal chronic conditions, including stroke, heart disease, heart failure and kidney disease.

Dr Duncan said the mental health impact of lockdown had captured a lot of government and community concern, but said overall deteriorating physical health was just as alarming.

“One of the things I think we need to do is to really acknowledge that our physical health and our mental health are so closely linked and keep trying to support people to make those positive lifestyle choices,” he said.

Rates of smoking also increased over the pandemic, hitting a high in April 2020 at 17 per cent before averaging out at 15.7 per cent, an increase of the three-year average of 13.3 per cent.

Dr Duncan said the identified health issues were interrelated and advised people look at all factors affecting their physical health, including sleep and good nutrition as well as encouraging people to speak to their general practitioner.

“There’s a correlation with all of these measurements here, you know they don’t sit on their own,” he said.

“There’s a whole range of different things that we need to make sure that we factor in to try to make sure that we can attenuate the decline in physical health that we’re seeing.”