The COVID-19 pandemic has messed up our lives, and there is probably no one who does not agree. Living with Corona measures and frequent lockdown periods is challenging, as it puts a whole lot of stress on us. Especially the lockdown periods interrupted our usual routines. Staying at home has replaced our usual physical activity with additional sedentary time. It has also made a difference by an objectively measured reduction in number of steps per day up to 50%. Moreover, the interruption of social life, increased screen time and sleep disturbances add on to the potential worsening of lifestyle behaviors. All these factors interfere with our usual weight management, and likely put us at risk for weight gain. This is especially critical for overweight or obese people. Research has shown that it is harder for obese people to lose weight during lockdown period. 

Obesity is known as an abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a health risk, while overweight is defined as a higher amount of body fat measured by the body mass index (BMI). Worldwide, 60% of the population are overweight, of which 25% are obese. Lifestyle changes, for instance the decrease in physical activity levels or the change in eating habits, exacerbate in people with obesity, putting them at higher risk. 

How does COVID-19 affect overweight and obese people?

  1. Difficulty to regulate weight

Less physical activity, more unhealthy eating habits, increased screen time, a sedentary lifestyle and sleep disturbances are all factors that favour weight gain. The limited options to go out and involuntary remote work force us to stay at home, with the only physical activities being home workouts or outdoor activities. 

  1. The challenge to regulate eating habits

The involuntary change of lifestyle comes along with a change of eating habits. Not being able to go out for lunch or dinner leaves many of us ordering food out of the comfort of the sedentary lifestyle we have adopted over the time. Especially if we don’t enjoy cooking, having takeout is the best option – not really the healthiest option though. 

  1. Psychological burden of the pandemic 

Living through these uncertain times, everyone experiences elevated psychological burden. With no things to do in a mundane everyday lifestyle, it is hard to find the motivation to be productive. Frequent mood swings and the feeling of falling into a hole, the so-called ‘Corona depression’ do not make it better. Given the uncertainty of the future, many also experience a feeling of being lost, let alone the fear of an infection. 

  1. Higher health risk

Obesity is associated with an elevated risk for infections, and more severe consequences in case of an infection. An obese person’s immune defense system is compromised and therefore less able to fight the virus. Various pathophysiological factors are contributing to this risk, such as impaired respiratory functions, declined respiratory muscle strength and low lung capacity. 

What can we do to prevent and manage obesity during COVID-19? 

  • Following general preventive measures for COVID-19

Very obvious, but lowering the risk of infection is the number one action for individuals at high risk – and this includes people with obesity. So let’s keep washing our hands, wearing protective equipment, let’s reduce social contact if possible and ideally avoid non-essential travelling. 

  • Surveillance and control of co-existing chronic diseases

People with obesity are prone to comorbid diseases such as Type II diabetes or cardiovascular diseases. It is therefore even more important for obese individuals to pay attention to their body and lifestyle. It is recommended to monitor: 

  • energy and nutrient intake 
  • energy expenditure 
  • sleep duration and quality
  • mental health 
  • resilience 
  • Adopt a healthier lifestyle 

Let’s fight the forces of the pandemic! We can counteract by trying to stick to a routine as much as possible. Let’s get to some physical exercise on a regular basis, keep social contacts via online tools, try out cooking and have more healthy food. 

Overall, obese individuals are affected more sverely by the pandemic compared to the general population. While obesity puts people at higher risk for an infection, the pandemic makes it harder for them to manage their weight. To be fair, obesity is complex in its nature, so this risk depends on a combination of environmental, genetical, behavior and lifestyle-related factors. Nevertheless, being aware and adopting a healthy lifestyle are crucial in the fight against the pandemic. 

If you feel like you need help, reach out to a professional here!

Ronja Sina is an intern at Willingness. She graduated with her MSc in Work, Organizational and Personnel Psychology from the University of Groningen.   


Bailly, S., Fabre, O., Legrand, R., Pantagis, L., Mendelson, M., Terrail, R., Tamisier, R., Astrup, A., Clément, K., & Pépin, J.-L. (2021). The Impact of the COVID-19 Lockdown on Weight Loss and Body Composition in Subjects with Overweight and Obesity Participating in a Nationwide Weight-Loss Program: Impact of a Remote Consultation Follow-Up-The CO-RNPC Study. Nutrients13(7).

Shah, H., Khan, M. S., Dhurandhar, N. V., & Hedge, V. (2021). The triumvirate: why hypertension, obesity and diabetes are risk factors for adverse effects in patients with COVID-10. Acta Diabetologica, 58(7), 831-843. 

Yu, W., Rohli, K. E., Yang, S., & Jia, P. (2021). Impact of obesity on COVID-19 patients. Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications, 35(3), 10787.