Social Isolation and Weight Gain

Social Isolation and Weight Gain

As we start to pull out of this isolation and get back to work and other activities, I have noticed some resounding common responses from many people that I have talked to. One is that people joke about the weight that they had gained, which was probably voicing their concern and basically saying, don’t judge me. Everyone is talking about how great it will be to get back to the gym…again, they know they’ve gained weight, but want to do something about it.  Another thing I have noticed is the reluctance to get back out there and socialize with people saying how weird it is and I started to realize how quickly the social skills erode and people start to feel a bit awkward, which is easy to understand when you can’t hug or shake hands. To me, it just feels weird!!!!

So I thought I would see if there are any studies on it and bingo, these studies have been going on for a couple of decades.

In a study done by K Yamada, H Ohki-Hamazaki and K Wade in 2000, they looked at what happened to mice in isolation. A little dry but as you can see below, they experience the same things as humans.

“The effects of social isolation on body weight gain, food consumption, and responsiveness to novel and social environment were assessed in an animal model for obesity, bombesin receptor subtype-3 (BRS-3) deficient mice. In Experiment 1, body weight gain and food consumption of group- and isolation-housed wild-type and BRS-3-deficient mice were compared. In wild-type mice, group-housed animals showed greater mean body weight gain and food consumption than did the isolation-housed cohort in the early stage of the experiment, whereas in BRS-3-deficient mice, the isolation-housed mice showed greater body weight gain and food consumption than the group-housed cohort by prolonged isolation housing. In Experiment 2, isolation-housed wild-type mice exhibited increased stereotypic and vertical movements relative to group-housed subjects in a novel environment, but this effect was not observed in BRS-3-deficient mice. In Experiment 3, when social response was assessed in animals housed in isolation, BRS-3-deficient mice exhibited lower social responses than did wild-type mice. We conclude that BRS-3-deficient mice and wild-type mice are differentially affected by social isolation. These results suggest that BRS-3 expression in the CNS may affect the neural mechanisms that regulate isolation effects in wild-type animals.”

So what does that all mean?

I guess it says that if you stick someone in a house with a fridge and a bunch of food and tell them they can’t come out for a few months they will abandon their normal sense of restraint and judgement and just go for it. I mean really, how bad can it get in a few months? Well, apparently it doesn’t take long and then your pants don’t fit. The other interesting thing is how quickly the social skills go away for some people and not for others. Some people just can’t wait to get out there and see their friends and family as they have cabin fever (these are equivalent to the wild mice in the study) while the others seem to have a very high level of anxiety and have become comfortably safe in their home and find it somewhat uncomfortable to venture out (these would be the tame mice in the study). I find it a very interesting exercise as it is not a class study or confined to a city, provincial or country, it is global.

My takeaway is, I have learned a few things from this. Things can change in a heartbeat, be thankful for the things you have, remember that you don’t need everything you see and we all know now how to properly wash our hands now. As Dr Bonnie Henry says, be kind to each other, it is so much easier.

Enjoy the great spring weather out there!!!

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