With restrictions now eased and the world returning to a ‘new normal’ post pandemic, there are still ongoing health issues facing many North Carolinians.
The stressful events we’ve experienced during the past three years, including significant changes to our normal lifestyle, are likely to have long-term effects on many people’s physical and mental health.
Health Plans of NC, Kelly Quinn
Research carried out by the American Psychological Association (APA) during the pandemic showed physical health may decline because people couldn’t cope in healthy ways with the stress of the pandemic. Many respondents reported they’d gained or lost significant weight, drank more alcohol to cope, and didn’t get adequate sleep. This was particularly relevant for parents, young people, essential workers, and people of color. As a result, many people may face chronic illness, placing additional strain on the health system.
Weight change can be a common side effect when people are coping with their mental health. The APA research showed that 61% of adults surveyed experienced weight changes since the pandemic began, with 42% experiencing weight gain. One of the reasons for this is the isolation, stress, and challenges of everyday life which led to changes in our usual behavior. Given obesity related diseases were already a significant public health issue pre-Covid, it’s likely to have long-term repercussions for individuals and the health system.
The research also highlighted how people from marginalized and low-income groups had experienced more weight gain over the past year, potentially caused by a lack of access to healthy food options and outdoor green spaces. In addition, the National Institutes of Health highlights that significant weight gain can pose serious long-term health risks, leading to issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if you’re overweight, you’re more likely to face serious illness when contracting Covid.
While many people have reported weight gain, there are also figures that highlight people already struggling with eating disorders have been affected by the lifestyle changes brought about by Covid.
For example, Mental Health America reports that 20 million women and 10 million men will experience an eating disorder at some stage throughout their life. These include bulimia, anorexia, binge eating, or atypical eating disorders. Many people facing eating disorders benefit from consistency, certainty, and predictability, which was unavailable during Covid. Studies show there’s been an increase in eating disorders and relapses by patients who were doing well pre pandemic.
Social isolation has also caused an increase in social media usage, which has affected younger people in particular. For example, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpine saw an almost 10% rise in contact since the start of the pandemic.
The other issue that has affected not just patients suffering from eating disorders but people needing access to health care, in general, is a lack of access to in-person treatment options. This lack of access has been a setback for anyone suffering from an eating disorder. Public health measures have also worked against them, with recommendations to limit shopping trips and stocking up on food being problematic for anyone with an eating disorder.
As early as May 2020, the UN identified the potential possible mental health impacts of Covid, as highlighted by further studies carried out around the globe as the pandemic has progressed. In America, the APA research also discovered 67% of people said they’re sleeping either more or less than they want to and similar reports show nearly 25% of adults are drinking more alcohol to help cope with stress. Alcohol intake was higher in families because of the increased pressure for remote learning. And while schools are now open, many people face challenges to reduce their alcohol intake.
In terms of different generation groups, Gen Z was the most likely to say their mental health has worsened during Covid, followed by Xers, Millennials, and Boomers. The mental health impact on essential workers has also been significant. Essential workers are more likely to have sought treatment from a mental health professional or to have been diagnosed with a disorder, which is not unexpected given the intense pressure many workers faced at the height of the pandemic.
It’s not just weight and mental health concerns that have risen because of the pandemic. Given the demand for public health services, along with Covid restrictions, we have pushed many other health concerns to the side. The APA found that nearly 47% of Americans have delayed or canceled health care due to the Covid 19 pandemic. And more than half of adults surveyed also said they’d been less active than they wanted to since Covid began.
Many of these issues could lead to long-term, more severe problems without seeking the right support. You can use various channels to seek help, and talking to your local physician is a great place to start. They can assess your needs and refer you to the right services so you can get the support you need.
There are many health insurance plans that provide additional benefits such as gym memberships, counseling, mental health support, and dietitians to support you in improving your health. Talking to an experienced health insurance agent can help to ensure you get the coverage you need to improve your long term health.
With increased demands likely to impact the health care system, organizing your health insurance should be a priority to ensure you can access the care you need at an affordable price. If you’re interested in getting a free, no-obligation quote from a local health insurance agent, get in touch with the team at Health Plans of NC today. We help find the right plans for people throughout North Carolina and can enroll you in a suitable plan for your health care and budget.