It’s official: Coronavirus quarantine made Israelis fat

A Hebrew University study finds 55 percent of Israelis report gaining weight during quarantine, with 50 percent admitting they gained more than 2 kilograms.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

A Hebrew University study released Monday found the “quarantine 15” isn’t just a social media meme – 55 percent of Israelis reported they’ve gained weight during the quarantine, with 50 percent admitting they gained more than 2 kilograms, or 4.5 pounds. The average amount of weight gained was 1.2 kilograms, or 2.4 pounds.

The survey, which analyzed answers from 1,200 respondents, found that 70 percent of Israelis reported letting their usual workout schedules slide, with 48 percent reporting that they had stopped exercising almost completely or completely.

Physiologist Dr. Horesh Dor-Haim, the study’s architect and the head of O2 Center for the Advancement of Health and Sports Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was disturbed by the results.

“We have been educating the public for years about the importance of exercise for health, and talking about the obesity epidemic and physical inactivity as a cause of death,” said Dor-Haim to Israel Hayom. “The decrease in physical activity due to the coronavirus restrictions and lockdowns may be more fatal than the virus itself.”

“More than 40 million people a year die from non-communicable diseases,” said Dor-Haim. “Studies indicate that lack of exercise results in a 20 percent to 30 percent increase in this group of diseases. These are much higher numbers than the coronavirus, which has killed about a quarter of a million people around the world.”

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The survey is based on self-reported data and can’t be independently confirmed. Researchers estimate that the real numbers of those who gained weight could be up to 30 percent higher. The survey found that people who reported continuing a regimen of working out four times a week didn’t report weight gain, while those who exercised twice a week or less said they gained weight.

For those Israelis who did exercise, 60 percent reported using digital media, like YouTube and Instagram workout videos, to aid their workouts. Twenty-two percent exercised the old fashioned way, without trying to incorporate technology into their fitness routine. Twenty-one percent attempted to use virtual workouts or digital media, but became frustrated and gave up.

Twenty-four percent of Israelis reported participating in Zoom fitness classes at least once. Only 15 percent reported exercising more than usual at home during the quarantine period.

The researchers asked respondents about their willingness to return to gyms and group fitness activities. Ninety percent said they were ready to resume their pre-virus habits, five percent were undecided, and five percent said they were afraid of the coronavirus risk and would not return to public gyms or group workouts.

People with preexisting medical conditions and elderly people, who are considered in high-risk groups, did not express a greater level of fear about returning to the gym than young, healthy people.

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The Association of Public Health Doctors and the Israeli Society of Sports Medicine released a statement, warning that, “The decline in physical activity impairs the physical and mental resilience of many individuals in the population and exacerbates chronic conditions, which will lead to an acute spike in morbidity.”

“We would like to develop a plan with the Ministry of Health that will enable and encourage physical activity in the present circumstances and in the future,” the statement continued.

“The lack of such programs for specific populations, such as the elderly and children, diabetics and heart patients, puts them at high risk of current epidemic acute illness, chronic morbidity later in life, and worsening of existing chronic conditions. The time has come to improve and direct physical activity in the coronavirus era to both the general population and specific groups within it.”