Pandemic Wellness Inequalities: Wealthier People Exercised More/Ate Healthier–Less Privileged Did the Opposite

By Thierry Malleret, economist 

The consequences of the pandemic in terms of health (both for those who caught the virus and those who did not) are becoming clearer. And they are broad in scope, far-reaching and sometimes surprising 

But the pandemic health changes are most striking when it comes to diet and fitness, and they’re indicative of the inequality problem at the heart of wellbeing. Data suggests that during the pandemic, richer (more wellness-conscious) people exercised more and ate more healthily, while less privileged (less wellness-conscious) members of society did the opposite. 

They range from blurry eyes (too much screen-time), “post-Covid hair loss” (from the virus itself and mental stress causing hair shedding), inflammatory skin conditions (eczema, psoriasis and other conditions worsened by stress) and teeth problems (dental check-ups cancelled and bruxism, i.e., teeth grinding and clenching) to heart conditions (cancelled procedures and missed appointments), stomach disorders (often caused by stress–such as irritable bowel syndrome), and podiatric problems (often caused by sitting at home or changes in physical activity). In all wealthier countries, there has been an increase in these health issues and conditions reported during the past two years. 

But it is with diet and fitness that the changes are the most remarkable and indicative of the inequality problem at the heart of wellbeing. Although this is a very rough approximation that comes with many caveats and exceptions, data suggests that over this period richer, wellness-conscious people exercised more and ate more healthily, while less privileged, less wellness-conscious members of society did the opposite (exercising less and eating more and/or less healthy food). During the lockdowns (and the pandemic in general), alcohol-related hospital admissions increased substantially (in the UK, one-third of citizens reduced or stopped their drinking while one-fifth drank more). In addition, many people gained weight, with an increased associated risk of type-2 diabetes. Several scientific papers and research projects show that obesity rates increased during the pandemic. US data (published three months ago) indicates that weight gain has occurred among American children aged five to eleven. In that group, being overweight or obese had increased from 36.2 percent to 45.7 percent during the pandemic. 

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