A new study by a group of researchers from New Mexico and Indiana found that Americans’ diets are becoming unhealthier as a result of stresses related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The findings – published last month in the European Journal of Investigation in Health, Psychology, and Education – are part of the first and largest national study on pandemic-related stress and eating habits in the United States.
“Unhealthy diet was one of the leading causes of death before the pandemic. Unfortunately, the pandemic may further worsen the diet of many Americans,” said Jagdish Khubchandani, the lead author of the study and a professor of public health at New Mexico State University.
“The financial and economic strain due to the pandemic, food insecurity and lack of access to healthy foods, social isolation and emotional challenges leading to an unhealthy diet may further worsen the problems of obesity and chronic diseases in the U.S.,” he said.
The researchers surveyed 838 adults across the nation about their pandemic-related stress and dietary habits, Khubchandani said.
The study found that 68 percent of respondents reported their diet quality had worsened or remained the same during the pandemic. It also found that 78 percent of respondents said their tendency of overeating remained the same or increased during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, 70 percent of respondents reported that their tendency to fast or skip meals remained the same or increased during the pandemic. Seventy-two percent said their tendency to restrict eating (limiting food quantity) remained the same or increased during the pandemic.
Compared to groups that reported a reduction in unhealthy behaviors, groups with an increase in unhealthy dietary practices had the highest stress scores, according to the study. Stress scores were the highest for racial and ethnic minorities, females, those employed part-time, and those who were single or 35 years old and younger. The study found that those who experienced worsening diets at higher rates had the highest stress scores.
The study also concluded that all but a quarter of Americans have struggled with finances and multiple stressors during the pandemic, and those who did not have an opportunity to work from home and lost their jobs struggled the most.
“The findings are disconcerting given the living conditions of certain groups,” Khubchandani said. “We will have greater inequality in the society that will, unfortunately, affect more females, racial and ethnic minorities, and the younger people across the nation who were just starting their life and career.”
Khubchandani said local communities can play a critical role in helping residents manage stress caused by the pandemic.
“NMSU and the greater Las Cruces community should be used as examples of how communities can contribute to improved health and well-being of citizens,” he explained. “Early and mass COVID-19 testing of students and community members at NMSU is certainly assuring, and such measures reduce panic and stress in the population.”
He added, “While many young people, especially college students across the country, are struggling for food, the NMSU Aggie Cupboard is a type of resource that should be deployed for college students across the nation so they do not sleep hungry. It’s a worthwhile initiative for our next generation that is under immense stress right now.”
To read more about the study titled “COVID-19 Pandemic, Stress, and Eating Practices in the United States,” visit https://www.mdpi.com/2254-9625/10/4/67/htm