Adult obesity increased during first year of COVID-19 pandemic

This is a bar chart showing the percentage change in adult obesity prevalence and four risk factors from pre-pandemic to pandemic periods.

U.S. adults ages 20 and older reported a 3 percent higher prevalence of obesity during the first year of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, according to a recent study conducted by a researcher at the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS). The study analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System from March 13, 2020, to March 18, 2021, compared to a pre-pandemic baseline period of January 1, 2019, to March 12, 2020. Four behaviors that can influence the risk of obesity—exercise, hours of sleep, alcohol use, and cigarette smoking—were also examined to help explain the change in the adult obesity rate during the pandemic. Participation in exercise rose 4.4 percent over the period and people slept 1.5 percent longer, both associated with reducing obesity. Meanwhile, the number of days in the period of a month in which alcohol was consumed was 2.7 percent higher, and cigarette smoking dropped by 4 percent. Research shows that higher alcohol intake and reduced cigarette smoking can lead to obesity and therefore may have contributed to the higher rate of obesity among U.S. adults during the pandemic. This chart appears in the ERS’s Amber Waves article, "Adult Obesity Prevalence Increased During the First Year of the COVID-19 Pandemic", published July 2022.

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