Vacations, “Creeping Obesity” and You

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Vacations and Obesity”It’s hardly news that people tend to gain weight on vacation, but some findings from the University of Georgia are connecting the phenomena to what’s known as “creeping obesity”—the idea of small gains in weight over time leading to becoming overweight or obese as a result. Additionally, the study looked at how long weight gain could stick around and whether it took place despite increased physical activity.

The study looked at 122 adults who went on vacations lasting one to three weeks. Participants underwent examination visits one week prior to vacation, one week after their vacation, and six weeks after their vacation. During these visits, the participants had their height, weight, blood pressure, and waist-to-hip ratio measured. Additionally, the International Physical Activity Questionnaire and Perceived Stress Scale were employed to get an idea of the participants’ physical habits and current stresses.

It was found that 61% of participants gained weight over the course of their vacation, with an average gain during the vacation period being 0.7 pounds. If this range was expanded to cover weight gain experienced during the entire study, including the six weeks post-vacation, the average weight gain became roughly one pound. This average alone is somewhat deceptive, as it represents a remarkably large swath of variations in outcome. Although some participants lost or maintained their weight during vacation, those who gained weight in some cases rose by up to seven pounds. These gains and losses had no correlation with the participants’ body mass index either.

What was perhaps even more important was that the study found that the weight gain occurred even among participants who reported increased physical activity during their vacation periods. This suggests that the primary driver of the weight gain was above-average caloric intake. Discussion with participants about what they ate or drank on vacation appears to support this. On average, for instance, participants had eight drinks per week prior to the vacation but had twice that number during the vacation period itself.

The researchers ultimately advise that people be more mindful of their caloric intake even when on short-term vacations and even if they think they are getting plenty of exercise. Unless someone weighs themselves immediately prior to departing and upon getting back, they are not likely to notice gaining small amounts of weight. This can have consequences down the road as those small pounds add up and contribute to the creeping obesity phenomenon.

The study does have some flaws that will need to be corrected in future investigations. There is an over-reliance on self-reporting, meaning dietary and exercise information can be skewed by personal biases, faulty memory, or outright deception. Offering more distinctions between one-, two-, and three-week vacations may also help pinpoint the effects they can have on weight more precisely.

On the plus side, the researchers did note that vacationers experienced reduced blood pressure and stress levels that persisted throughout the six-week follow-up period.

Source for Today’s Article:
Cooper, Jamie A., and Theresa Tokar, “A Prospective Study on Vacation Weight Gain in Adults,” Physiology & Behavior 156, 2016: 43–47; last accessed February 5, 2016.


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Adrian Newman, B.A.

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Adrian has been working in the information publishing world since 1997. But when it comes to health information, he’s a self-admitted late bloomer. A couch potato since pre-school, Adrian was raised on TV, video games and a lifestyle that led to childhood obesity that followed him well into adulthood. But when he hit his forties, he decided enough was enough. He had a family to take care of and his days of overeating, under-exercising and inactivity were going to lead... Read Full Bio »