Food insecurity, not the ‘Quarantine 15,’ is the real pandemic concern

As many Americans are spending more time at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a newly minted phrase—‘the Quarantine 15’—has crept into collective thought. But results from a recent nationwide survey conducted by Penn researchers indicate that claims about the trending pandemic weight gain concern may not be credible after all. 

A line of people outside a food bank wait on a sidewalk practicing social distancing and wearing face masks.
A crowd of people wait in line outside a food pantry at St. Bartholomew's Roman Catholic Church in Elmhurst, Queens.

“Only a tiny portion—around 2%—of our survey respondents reported gaining more than 10 pounds since the pandemic, despite experiencing considerable emotional stress and a general decrease in physical exercise,” says Zhengxia Dou, professor of agricultural systems at Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine. The lead investigator behind the interdisciplinary project, Dou is coordinating the effort with other colleagues from Penn Vetthe School of Nursing, and the School of Arts and Sciences.

Instead, the survey’s results point to other circumstances emerging from the pandemic’s impacts on households across the United States. The biggest concern? Household food insecurity.

“COVID-19 has posed a black swan event that has had profound effects on our daily life—particularly, how we view and value food,” says Dou. “From the moment that grocery store shelves started to become sparse, food suddenly emerged as a front-of-mind issue everywhere.”

Specifically, the Penn survey uncovered a sharp increase in households reporting food worries or experiencing food shortages since the pandemic. Low-income families and those with household members losing income during the pandemic were hit the hardest. With about one-third of respondents reporting income loss, there are many individuals seeking help putting meals on the table for the first time.

Read more at Penn Vet News.