Researchers in Germany and Belgium conducted a survey highlighting some of the adverse effects of the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on people’s eating habits.
Overall, the study, in which almost 1,000 participants took part, found that food consumption increased along with the purchase of ready-made meals such as ready-made meals and canned food with a longer shelf life.
The survey by the Lower Saxony Regional Association of the Food Industry (LI Food) also showed that the consumption of alcohol and sweets had increased. In contrast, the intake of fruits and vegetables decreased.
In addition, the results show that families who have suffered income losses as a result of the pandemic are particularly likely to adopt these less healthy habits.
Adriano Profeta from the German Institute for Food Technology in Quakenbrück and colleagues warn that repeated closings and school closings can have serious health consequences in the medium to long term, especially for households with pandemic-related income losses.
The team also recommends some steps that politicians and stakeholders could take to counter the negative developments.
A first version of the research paper is available on the preprints * server while the article is being peer reviewed.
COVID-19 mitigation measures have had an impact on daily life around the world
The restrictions imposed by many countries to contain the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted the daily lives of millions of people around the world.
A major effect was the effect on shopping habits and thus on eating behavior. The quarantine option has raised concerns about the type and amount of food that can be stored and, in some cases, “out of stock” situations have resulted in “panic buying” of certain items.
The psychological effects of the pandemic can also affect shopping and eating behavior. Studies have shown that stress factors such as a pandemic-related loss of income can lead to “comfort food”. Fear of infection can also lead to less frequent shopping and buying of foods with a longer shelf life.
What did the researchers do?
In April 2020, the team conducted an online survey of 973 people living in Germany to determine how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected food consumption, shopping behavior and eating habits in the country.
Between April 22 and 27, the participants were asked about their eating, shopping and cooking habits before and during the pandemic.
What did you find?
Of all respondents surveyed, around a fifth (20.5%) said that more food was consumed in their households during the pandemic, and almost a third (31.4%) said they had more food in stock.
The general increase in food consumption appeared to be mainly due to households with children and pandemic-related income losses.
In households with no children or loss of income, food consumption increased less than in households with children and loss of income.
In households with children and budgets restricted due to loss of income, the caloric intake was significantly higher, with a greater shift towards the consumption of less healthy foods.
Fresh products are being replaced with more convenient but unhealthy foods
The study also showed an overall decrease in consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and an overall increase in consumption of canned foods, ready-made meals, sweets, and alcohol.
“Therefore there was a tendency that fresh products were partly replaced by processed and more durable (convenience) products or partly unhealthy foods (sweets, alcohol)”, write the researchers.
In the analysis of various household segments, households with children and income losses were again hit hardest.
Among households with children and income losses, 17.7% said they eat less fruit and vegetables, compared with only 10.8% of households with children, but no income loss.
In the ready-made meals category, 28.3% of households with children and loss of income reported increased consumption, compared with only 16.6% of households with children, but no loss of income.
In addition, alcohol consumption increased in 21.2% of households with children and with loss of income, while it increased by only 11.5% in households without children or with loss of income.
Financially affected families are a vulnerable group
“The results show that families who are financially affected by the pandemic represent a vulnerable group,” writes Profeta and the team.
“Given the ongoing duration of the pandemic, repeated closings, corona-related closings of schools and kindergartens, serious health consequences are to be expected in the medium to long term, especially for this population group,” they warn.
The researchers recommend some steps policymakers and other stakeholders can take to counter these negative effects of the pandemic.
For example, they advise keeping schools and kindergartens open as long as possible, as the associated meal planning can have a direct positive impact on children’s nutrition.
The team also suggests improving the quality of community care for children by adjusting the calorie content of the food options according to the age groups of the children.
* Important NOTE
Preprints publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and therefore should not be considered conclusive, guide clinical practice / health-related behavior, or be treated as established information.
- Profeta A et al. The impact of the corona pandemic on consumer food consumption – vulnerability of households with children and loss of income. Preprints 2021, 2021010153 (doi: 10.20944 / preprints202101.0153.v2). https://www.preprints.org/manuscript/202101.0153/v2