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3 signs the ‘pandemic economy’ ended in 2022—even though Covid is still around

By all technical definitions, the U.S. is still in a pandemic. As of September, the World Health Organization has only declared the end of the pandemic “in sight,” but not here yet — especially as Covid cases rise and threaten another harsh winter wave.

Some pandemic lifestyle changes like mask-wearing in the U.S. remain common, especially as the Center for Disease Prevention and Control recommends wearing masks in areas with high infection rates including New York and Los Angeles.

America’s money habits, however, have almost completely gone back to pre-pandemic trends. After nearly two years of significant disruption — for better or worse — these are three examples of how the pandemic economy ended in 2022:

Major retailers like Walmart and Target made headlines this year for excessive inventories hurting their bottom lines as consumers shifted their spending habits. After stocking up on electronics and other home goods for much of the last two years, consumers are back to spending on services including travel and entertainment.

Consumer expenditures on durable goods were up about 6% in October from the previous year, compared with a more than 8% increase in services spending according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Two of the industries that suffered the most at the onset of the pandemic — travel and hospitality — have made near-full recoveries. Consumers returned to the skies with global airline passenger traffic nearing 74% of September 2019 levels this past fall according to the International Air Transport Association.

And whether in their hometowns or while they were traveling, Americans found themselves eating at restaurants even more than they did in 2019, data from reservation platform OpenTable shows.

Though airlines and restaurants alike continue dealing with labor shortages amid an overwhelming surge in customer demand, the long lines and sold-out reservations that defined the industries this year reflect a return to normal leisure activities for much of the population.

Consumers may have been expecting to spend more this year in light of returning to working in person and going out for fun. But persistently high inflation and fears of a coming recession made it difficult for folks to keep their spending in check and maintain good saving habits.

The government’s financial aid that helped consumers meet those goals through the height of the pandemic didn’t exist in 2022, changing the way people use their money again, according to Angeli Gianchandani, an expert in consumer behavior as a practitioner in residence for the brand marketing and executive MBA programs at the University of New Haven.

“The stimulus checks and the unemployment benefits allowed people to spend — they were spending money, because they had it,” she says. Those government subsidies allowed folks to spend more, but they were also saving money not commuting to work, shopping for clothes or getting their hair done.

“The spending shifted, and now the pendulum has swung so far to the other side with inflation,” she says. “We’re seeing this impact that’s just such a change and creating a burden for people.”

After paying off loads of credit card debt and saving at higher rates than ever before during the height of the pandemic, many consumers are back to relying on credit to cover everyday purchases.

It wasn’t just events like the GameStop frenzy that made the stock market exciting in 2021, but also the fact that the markets seemed to be fully recovered and poised to keep growing as the world continued to re-open. But that optimism began to slide at the end of last year and has continued its descent throughout 2022.

Not only will the major stock indexes end the year on a sour note, but other major investments like buying a house got more painful this year as the Fed hiked interest rates to help curb inflation.

A combination of pandemic-induced factors — more downtime at home, pent-up savings and low interest rates — allowed consumers to spend and invest more freely throughout the height of the pandemic. Now, with prices high, the economy’s health uncertain and a number of other crises still bubbling (war in Ukraine, climate change, U.S. political tension), people are looking for stability.

“This uncertainty we may be going through, you’re gonna see again consumers are going to change habits,” Gianchandani says. From where they shop to where they work and where they invest, she says folks are looking for companies to take a stand and show how they create value for their shareholders beyond just returns. “Companies need to be able to speak to their customer be transparent and forthcoming, and help them build that trust to overcome any of these challenges.”

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Where Tech Talent Goes To Thrive

here is a worldwide shortage of digital skills. In a world increasingly reliant on technology, demand for technological skillsets is rising by as much as 50%. Meanwhile, nearly three-quarters of today’s workers don’t feel equipped to learn the digital skills needed by businesses.

The most acute shortage is in advanced skills like programming, especially for new technologies like AI and blockchain.

This demand gives skilled tech workers, entrepreneurs, and leaders the pick of where to base themselves. As cities and nations compete to attract tech talent, what makes these prized individuals choose one place over another?.

Initial Attraction
In a survey of ‘tech migrants’, Boston Consulting Group identified a mixture of short-, medium-, and long-term levers businesses and cities could use to attract talent.

The initial attraction is often brute economics: higher pay and lower taxes. That’s certainly what brings people to Dubai, says Vladimir Vrzhovski, Tech and Digital Lead at Mercer: “Dubai pays about 30% higher than most of the mature tech hubs around Europe and Asia.” It also has a lower cost of living, especially when its 0% income tax is taken into account.

Businesses operating in the city’s free zones – like the tech-focused Dubai Internet City (DIC) and Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC) Innovation Hub – also benefit from 0% corporation tax. BCG credits the incentive with bringing big names like Amazon, Google, and Oracle to the emirate.

It is an echo of London’s rise to tech prominence, offering tax relief on tech investments via its Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) to funnel the city’s vast pools of finance towards digital businesses.

The presence of blue-chip names affords another major draw for tech talent: opportunities.

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Adding exercise into treatment may reduce substance use, study shows

One key to fighting addiction may be exercise, according to a new study.

Researchers undertook a review of the existing literature around physical activity and its relationship to substance use, and they found that regular exercise was associated with lowered use in about 75% of the studies investigating that question, according to the analysis.

The review, published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, looked at 43 studies with more than 3,000 total participants. In addition to a reduction or cessation in substance use, the studies also found improved markers of physical health and decreased depressive symptoms, the study said.

“People think that during treatment people should only do psychotherapeutic treatments … but that’s not what we’ve seen in our study,” said lead study author Florence Piché, a doctoral student and researcher at Université de Montréal in Canada. “It’s very beneficial to do physical activity in addition to the treatments.”

There are limitations to the findings. The review found that most of the studies the researchers examined had a high risk of bias, meaning more research is needed to confirm their findings, said Dr. Aaron Kandola, research fellow at Medical Research Council Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing at University College London.

The studies were also not directly comparable enough to build a comprehensive and generalizable understanding of the relationship, Kandola said in an email. Kandola was not part of the research.

However, the findings were still significant and useful, he added.

“Substance use disorders are a major public health problem lacking low-cost, evidence-based solutions,” he said, adding that substance use disorders are worsening in many high-income countries — including the United States.

Finding more accessible solutions to this disorder is especially important because it often occurs with other mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, which disproportionately affect people with fewer socioeconomic resources and areas with higher deprivation, he said.

Physical activity may be a useful and accessible part of a treatment plan for substance use disorder, said Dr. Mark Smith, professor of psychology at Davidson College in North Carolina. Smith was not part of the research.

“I think there’s now a sufficient amount of data to indicate that various forms of physical activity and exercise are generally effective at reducing substance use in individuals seeking treatment,” he said.

What exercise does
Most people can benefit from engaging in physical activity, Kandola said.

One benefit the studies found is improvements in physical health such as cardiovascular endurance or muscle strength, Smith said. And although that may not be the primary goal of the research, he said this finding is important because it shows the physical activity is doing its job to promote physical health.

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Blood sugar drug tirzepatide also leads to substantial weight loss in diabetes patients, Eli Lilly says

There’s more evidence that the injectable drug tirzepatide helps people with diabetes lose weight as well as control their blood sugar, according to the drug’s manufacturer, Eli Lilly and Company.

In a new study, more than 900 adults with obesity and diabetes took the drug for a year and five months, and those on the highest dose lost an average of 34 pounds, or nearly 16% of their starting weight. It also helped people reduce their blood sugar, the company said in a news release. The data has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal.

“We have not hit 15% in any other phase three trial for weight management in this type two diabetes population,” said Dr. Nadia Ahmad, an associate vice president at Eli Lilly and medical director of obesity clinical development for the company.

Ahmad said the company was pleased with these results, given how hard it is for people with type 2 diabetes to lose weight.

Tirzepatide is currently sold as Mounjaro and approved to help people with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar.

Lilly says it will use the new study, along with results from an earlier study of weight loss in people without diabetes, to ask the US Food and Drug Administration to fast-track approval for tirzepatide purely for weight loss, which would make it a direct competitor to the blockbuster obesity drug Wegovy.

Plenty of people aren’t waiting for the FDA’s nod.

“I am aware of and I’ve heard, you know, it being sort of used off label for weight loss and individuals who do not have diabetes,” said Dr. Kimberly Gudzune, medical director of the American Board of Obesity Medicine. Gudzune was not involved in the tirzepatide study.

Gudzune points out that once a drug is FDA approved it can be prescribed for any reason a doctor sees as medically necessary.

Tirzepatide, along with several similar types of drugs taken for diabetes, went into shortage last year as success stories posted on social media fueled runaway demand for their weight loss benefits. The shortages made the medications difficult for patients with diabetes to get.

Tirzepatide works by mimicking the action of two different gut hormones. When blood sugar rises after eating, the drug stimulates the body to produce more insulin, which lowers blood sugar. It also slows down the movement of food from the stomach, making people feel fuller for longer. In clinical trials, people who took tirzepatide experienced more nausea, vomiting and diarrhea compared with those who took a placebo injection.

Semaglutide, manufactured by Novo Nordisk, has also been approved as a weight loss medication for overweight adults with at least one associated health problem since 2021. When prescribed for weight loss, it is sold under the brand name Wegovy. When prescribed for diabetes, the injection is sold under the brand name Ozempic.

High demand, coupled with manufacturing problems, threw Wegovy into shortage for much of the last year. That shortage then rippled into shortages for diabetes patients as doctors began prescribing other diabetes medications off-label for weight loss.

There has already been a lot of buzz about tirzepatide’s potential as an obesity medication. In a clinical trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine last year, people who were overweight or obese, but did not have diabetes, lost an average of 52 pounds on the highest dose of the drug, or more than 20% of their starting weight.

“In the last year has been really exciting just to have more tools in the toolbox, so to speak. And tools that, you know, we’re seeing really achieving outcomes that patients for the longest time have been hoping to achieve,” Gudzune said.

If those results hold up in the real world, that would make it the most potent of the injectable weight loss medications.

Indeed, this week Lilly aims to begin a study that will test Mounjaro against Wegovy head-to-head in 700 participants at 61 sites in the United States and Canada, according to The study will conclude in February 2025.

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