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Pandemic pounds Obesity rise among women may be linked to stress eating


Weight gain woman getting dressed wearing jeans. Diet concept - closeup of women hands unable to close the pants due to gaining weight.

Weight gain woman getting dressed wearing jeans. Diet concept - closeup of women hands unable to close the pants due to gaining weight.

Weight gain woman getting dressed wearing jeans. Diet concept - closeup of women hands unable to close the pants due to gaining weight.

The gap between men and women who are overweight or obese looks to be narrowing since the pandemic began, according to recent figures by the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

Experts say this could be due to the fact that Irish women are more likely to self-report that they have put on weight in lockdown, according to a study carried out by the CSO.

At the same time, more women than men are also reporting a greater increase in the consumption of junk food and alcohol during the pandemic.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent this weekend, Gerry Reilly, senior statistician at the CSO, explained: "Since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis, the CSO has conducted three separate surveys which have measured the impact of the crisis on society. These were conducted in April, June and August.

"In the June survey, we found that 67pc of men and 61pc of women reported as being overweight or obese."

The CSO figures point to a narrowing of the gap between men and women, just a year after a Department of Health survey reported that 66pc of men and 55pc women were overweight and obese.

Mr Reilly said: "Although we can't compare the two sets of figures directly because of methodological differences between the surveys, the narrowing of the difference between the rates for men and women that are overweight or obese is plausible as female respondents in the June Social Impact of Covid-19 survey were considerably more likely to report weight gain (47pc compared with 35pc of men) since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis."

He added that, in addition to this, the April Social Impact of Covid-19 survey found that women were more likely to report an increase in junk-food consumption when compared with male respondents (54pc of women said they were consuming more junk food compared with just 36pc of men).

Although the reason for women reporting that they are eating more junk and putting on more weight than their male counterparts during lockdown is not yet known, Mr Reilly says it could be linked to stress.

"There is epidemiological evidence suggesting an association between stress and changes in alcohol and junk food consumption."

His comments come after a CSO study conducted in April found that women were more likely to report that they felt, 'very nervous', 'downhearted or depressed' or 'lonely' in the four weeks prior to the study.

Some 77.3pc of women also said they felt nervous 'at least a little of the time', compared with 61.3pc of men.

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In addition to this, more women reported they were 'extremely concerned' with somebody else's health than men (27.6pc women and 20.1pc men), while the percentage of women who said they were 'extremely concerned' about maintaining social ties (10.9pc) were double that of men (5.4pc).

In recent years, scientists have described how "stress eating" or "comfort eating" occurs when people use food to manage or change unpleasant feelings, including anxiety, depression, loneliness and boredom.

Researchers have estimated that emotional eating may be a significant contributor or cause of overeating as much as 88pc of the time.

Meanwhile, a fourth survey will be launched on Wednesday which will capture, among other issues, worries about how we will celebrate Christmas.

The CSO is urging people who receive a letter to take part in their surveys after the number of respondents dropped in the pandemic.

A statement issued by the agency read: "Due to public health guidelines regarding Covid-19, our interviewers no longer conduct CSO household surveys in the sampled households' own homes.

"Sample households now receive introductory letters by post asking them to ring the CSO to schedule an interview which is conducted over the phone.

"These surveys give us a picture of the economic and social situation of the citizens of Ireland, with a level of accuracy no one else can gain.

"If you are asked to take part in a CSO survey, please do so."

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