PurposeLife disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are particularly salient for young adults. Some young adults may engage in unhealthy eating practices to cope with social distancing and isolation during the pandemic, which could increase incidental weight gain. The purpose of this study was to examine the association of eating to cope with the pandemic with body weight change in young adults before versus after spread of COVID-19.
MethodsData included the baseline (October/2018-October/2019) and follow-up (May/2020-July/2020) assessments from an ongoing longitudinal cohort recruited from Southern California. A diverse sample of participants (54% Hispanic; age = 19.72[.47] years; N = 1,820) completed online self-report measures of weight at baseline and follow-up and were given a checklist of pandemic coping behaviors including overeating (yes/no) and eating high fat or sugary foods (yes/no) to cope with social distancing and isolation during the pandemic.
ResultsWith and without adjusting for confounders, young adults who did versus did not report overeating to cope with the pandemic gained more weight from baseline to follow-up (5.55 vs. 2.54 lbs). Unhealthy food intake to cope with the pandemic was not associated with weight change. Baseline weight moderated the association of eating coping practices with weight change such that individuals with higher baseline weight gained more weight if they engaged in eating to cope behaviors versus not (p's≤.001).
ConclusionsUnhealthy eating behavior to cope with the pandemic and corresponding body weight increases may be occurring in young adults. Interventions to promote healthy eating practices in young adults warrant consideration for weight gain prevention during the pandemic.