The study, which surveyed 5,000 adults on changes in their weight since the first lockdown in March 2020, found that 21 per cent of people who had gained weight put on a stone or more.
On average, those aged between 35 to 65 gained 4.6kg, which is just over half a stone. Most respondents said unhealthy eating habits, like snacking and comfort eating, were the main reasons behind their weight gain.
The survey was commissioned as part of PHE’s new Better Health campaign, which offers a 12-week plan to help adults lose excess weight and adopt a more active lifestyle.
Earlier this month, research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that there was a “large increase in calories from takeaways” during the last year, peaking at more than double the usual levels in the second national lockdown in November 2020.
In April, Just Eat reported that it received 79 per cent more orders between January and March this year, compared with the same period in 2020. In the UK alone, the number of orders increased by 96 per cent to 64 million.
During all three national lockdowns, people were permitted to go outdoors to exercise once a day, but gyms and other sporting venues were closed.
Findings from Sport England show that activity levels were at their lowest during the first lockdown when the number of adults doing more than 30 minutes of exercise a week fell by 7.1 per cent, which amounts to roughly 3 million people.
PHE said that those who have already used its 12-week weight loss plan have reported an average loss of 5.8kg.
“The past sixteen months have caused many to change their habits, so it is not a surprise to see so many people reporting weight gain,” Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE said.
“We know how hard it can be to lose weight and keep it off – so, we are providing a range of support options to help motivate people and help them maintain a healthy weight. It’s never too late to make changes to help improve your health.”
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