Study links pandemic to six unhealthy eating behaviors


A new probe into the lingering impacts of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic revealed correlations to six unhealthy eating behaviors, according to a new study by the University of Minnesota Medical School and School of Public Health published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

The study looked at  study participants in university’s Project EAT between April and May 2020. It aimed to understand potential associations between stress, psychological distress, financial difficulties, and changes in eating behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic through the analysis of both qualitative and quantitative data.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the rapid implementation of public health policies to reduce transmission of the virus,” said Melissa Simone, PhD, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, in a statement. “While these protections are necessary, the disruptions to daily life associated with the ongoing pandemic may have significant negative consequences for the risk of eating disorders and symptoms. Eating disorders have one of the highest mortality rates across all psychiatric health concerns, and therefore, it is important to try to make links between the consequences of the pandemic and disordered eating behaviors.”

The research found six key themes of eating behavior changes:

  • Mindless eating and snacking
  • Increased food consumption
  • Generalized decrease in appetite or dietary intake
  • Eating to cope
  • Pandemic-related reductions in dietary intake
  • A re-emergence or marked increase in eating disorder symptoms

Approximately 8 percent of those studied reported extreme unhealthy weight control behaviors, 53 percent had less extreme unhealthy weight control behaviors, and 14 percent reported binge eating. The study revealed that these outcomes were significantly associated with poorer stress management, greater depressive symptoms, and moderate or extreme financial difficulties.

"The economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic will likely persist long beyond the dissemination of a vaccine,” said Simone. “Because our findings suggest that moderate or severe financial difficulties may be linked with disordered eating behaviors, it is essential that eating disorder preventive interventions and treatment efforts be affordable, easily accessible and widely disseminated to those at heightened risk. As such, online or mobile-based interventions may prove to be effective and accessible modes for targeted intervention efforts."

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