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COVID-19 impact on eating habits

COVID-19 brought many changes to our society, and challenges to which we were forced to adapt in record time.

The question that arises is, how have eating and physical activity behaviours changed in a context of social restraint?

The study was done in Portugal by the Direção-Geral da Saúde, in the period between April 9th and May 4th, 2020, and took into account a sample of 5874 individuals (aged 16 or older) in social confinement.

COVID-19 seems to have contributed to a change in the eating habits of 45.1% of the surveyed population, with 41.8% having the perception that it has changed for the worse, whether due to changes in working hours (17.6%), in the model of buying food (34.3%), the stress experienced (18.6%) or changes in their own appetite (19.3%). One in every three portuguese (33.7%) expressed concern about a possible difficulty in accessing food and 8.3% even indicated having economic difficulties in accessing food.

The number of meals taken at home during the confinement phase led to changes in food consumption. Although 30.9% of the respondents report eating more sweet snacks, there was also an increase in the consumption of fruit (29.7%) and vegetables (21%). Most respondents report having started cooking more (56.9%), unfortunately also snacking more (31.4%).

This fact associated with a sedentary lifestyle may explain the perception of increased weight during this period reported by 26.4% of the population. A less healthy eating pattern was observed among younger respondents, males, with more financial difficulties and at risk of food insecurity, characterised by increased consumption of salty snacks, pre-prepared meals, soft drinks and take-away and, in contrast, by a decreased consumption of fruit and vegetables.

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