A deeper look at our wider waistlines

There’s more to your pandemic weight gain than just snacking

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Metro | Published October 6, 2021

 Rebecca Anconetani leads a class at Jazzercise of Mount Clemens.

Rebecca Anconetani leads a class at Jazzercise of Mount Clemens.

Photo provided by Rebecca Anconetani


METRO DETROIT — Social distancing may keep us from contracting COVID-19, but it could also make many of us more likely to succumb to a different national public health crisis: obesity.

Never mind the most obvious reason for weight gain — a lack of exercise caused by months of gym and fitness center shutdowns last year. But since remote work likely means fewer steps taken in a given day, and probably easier access to snacks, about 40% of Americans said the pandemic has been the catalyst for unwanted weight gain, according to the American Psychological Association.

Birmingham resident Dr. Michael Lutz, president and founder of the Michigan Institute of Urology’s Men’s Health Foundation, said he’s noticed an uptick in patients who’ve put off medical care and wellness routines during the pandemic.

“Before, we would tell people to come in so we can ‘check under the hood.’ Now we’re saying ‘bring the car into the shop,’” said Lutz. “People have really hunkered down physically and emotionally, and now they need to be reintegrated into the health care community and get comfortable coming in again.”

For years, Lutz has been the force behind MIU’s annual Men’s Health Event, which gives guys 18 and older the chance to take advantage of free health screenings to spot or prevent common ailments like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and more.

Since obesity can lead to so many more serious diseases, Lutz said waist circumference and body fat calculations are among the recommended screenings available at the Men’s Health Event, which this year will be held 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 9, at Ford Field in Detroit.

Those tests are especially important for minority communities, he added, because while 80% of men reportedly delayed health care services during the pandemic, Black and Latino men have been more prone to the stressors that can increase the risk of obesity and other health problems.

“How COVID was affecting health disparities in the community was significant. The daily pain and daily stress of job insecurity and food insecurity — we expected to see a fairly significant impact on (wellness), and that definitely played out,” Lutz said.

Along with health screenings, vaccinations — for flu and COVID-19 — and general educational sessions, this year’s Men’s Health Event will feature resources for utility and nutritional support, which could help those in need to rein in at least some of their pandemic tension, for the sake of their health.

Lutz said there will also be some resources for ladies at the health event, since they’re often the ones hauling in their significant other for a checkup.

Women have been equally plagued by the pandemic stress and isolation that can lead to weight gain. And just like the fellas, the key to shedding that weight is bringing socialization back to wellness.

Rebecca Anconetani, the owner of the Jazzercize fitness center in Mount Clemens, said that plenty of her clients have put on some pounds over the course of the last year and a half. But when they head into class for their workout, their focus is more about the interaction with friends.

“Each customer walking through our doors are seeking community, and they’re happily reminded why in-person classes are so effective,” Anconetani said, noting that most clients report working out harder in an in-person class than they would with a similar effort at home. “The real obstacle is making the time, making working out a priority in (their) daily schedules.”

To those looking to take off quarantine pounds, Anconetani said they’d be smart to start with a new scene, instead of a screen.

“It takes a mind shift to pack up and go, to get to the center instead of turning on the screen. …  They fellowshipped, worked hard and took another step toward their personal weight-loss, strengthening and mental health goals.”

Lutz agreed that socialization is a major part in curbing the COVID-19-related factors that lead to weight gain. That’s why, after a year of hosting the Men’s Health Event as a socially distanced drive-thru event, they’re bringing back the in-person attractions. That drive-thru version of the event was hosted as the last event ever on the Michigan State Fairgrounds last year.

It seems counter-intuitive, but with adequate precautions, shaking off the isolation of quarantine and rejoining the community could actually improve virus outcomes. After all, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report obese patients have a much higher risk of developing severe symptoms of COVID-19, as opposed to those with a  body mass index between 25 and 29.9.

“We believe we should play a part in reintegrating the community back into the health care community. We take a holistic approach to assessing one’s health care, so that includes everything from (interaction) to educational and vocational opportunities. We’re doing everything we can to draw guys in,” Lutz said.

To learn more about the MIU Men’s Health Event, register for screenings or review resources visit TheMensHealthEvent.com or text MHE2021 to (313) 217-3328.