Since March 11, 2020, the Covid-19 epidemic has been officially declared a pandemic, the first caused by a coronavirus, by the World Health Organization (WHO). To curb the pandemic, a first strict confinement was instituted in France from March 17 to May 11, 2020, disrupting the daily life of the population. He was followed by others. As in France, many countries (but not all, like Japan) have opted for containment measures. From the start of these exceptional measures, surveys were carried out to monitor the different eating behaviors due to this situation. Two of them reveal the impacts of confinement on health, specifically on eating habits leading to the consumption of ultra-processed products and weight gain.
We don’t eat like before
Eating behavior varies, evolves according to many factors: environment, income, education… Its main physiological function remains to ensure a sufficient supply of energy, macronutrients (carbohydrates, lipids, proteins) and micronutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals such as carotenoids, polyphenols, terpenes. Some of these compounds are necessary for all cells in the body. However, for a few decades we have been witnessing a change in dietary behavior with the consumption of more ultra-processed products. The pandemic and confinements have not helped matters.
Analysis of 23 international studies shows that lockdowns have changed eating behaviors
Out of a set of 826 studies that followed populations during their confinement, 23 were included in this work of collection, critical evaluation and synthesis of knowledge. The aim of this systematic review was to assess changes in eating behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic by comparing before and after. The findings of this analysis provide information on changes in eating behaviors. They show a increase in snacking and an preference for sweets and ultra-processed foods. There is also a increase in alcohol consumption. Adherence to healthy eating has clearly declined.
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Results ? Fruits, vegetables and fresh foods are consumed less. The number of people adopting a healthy diet is decreasing.
Generalized weight gain
Other studies have found that the weight of people subjected to the confinements has increased. From the start of confinement, a repeated survey by Public Health France (CoviPrev survey) made it possible to monitor various health behaviors. It shows that among those questioned, those who perceived confinement as a difficult period to live with gained weight. They said they ate more than usual, snacked more, reduced their consumption of fruit and vegetables, did less sports, presented with depression and sleep disorders. In France, from the 5th week of confinement, 37% of people who participated in the study changed their diet: more cooking, but also snacking, consumption of fatty, sweet, salty products…
Results ? In the eighth week of confinement, 27% of respondents said they snacked more, compared to 22% during the 5th week. 36% noticed a weight gain in the eighth week whereas they were only 27% in the 5th week.
What should alert public health authorities
These studies suggest that the confinements have influenced eating behaviors. If confinement may have favored home cooking, other changes are proving unfavorable, even dangerous for health. Faced with such results, health authorities are expected to adapt their nutrition and public health messages to remedy these negative impacts on the one hand, but also to better manage the situation, in the event of new restrictions. Indeed, repeated confinements could aggravate food-related pathologies.
To go further, read: The best way to eat