The bad (and good) habits that Covid-19 left us

The bad (and good) habits that Covid-19 left us

During the lockdown we ate more and worse, and exercised less. But we also consumed less alcohol. Here's what we bring with us from pandemic and quarantine

(Image: Unsplash) The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown have drastically changed the routine of all of us. In addition to, of course, those who have been directly affected by the virus, even those who have not been infected have had to deal with distancing and quarantine, with everything that followed. Several studies, in recent months, have tried to understand and measure the impact of the pandemic on daily life, in particular in terms of new habits acquired, both bad and good. And the results, as has often happened for other issues, sometimes seem not in agreement, even contradictory. Let's examine some of them.


One of the latest studies, in chronological order, concerns eating habits: it was conducted in the United States, on a sample of about 2 thousand people, and showed that the pandemic has actually affected the way we eat. The authors of the work, in particular, found a decrease in the consumption of many food groups, especially healthier ones such as vegetables and wholemeal flours, compared to the period before the pandemic: "When the infections started to rise", said Caroline Um, an American Cancer Society postdoc, one of the authors of the work, “We observed a compulsive shopping rush, food supply problems, rising food prices and rising unemployment rates. These are all factors that have an influence on access to food, and we wanted to find out if and how the population's diet had changed ".

To understand this, scientists looked at a subset of participants in a larger previous study, the Cancer Prevention Studyu 3 (Cps-3), which had enrolled approximately 300,000 US men and women as of 2006; from 2015 onwards, the participants filled out questionnaires, every three years, which had the aim of monitoring their diet.

In 2020, the researchers selected 2,335 volunteers from the entire sample and involved them in a pilot test for a study on nutrition and Covid: "We already had plans to study people's eating habits in greater depth", explains Um. "With the arrival of the pandemic we decided to try to understand if Covid had any effect: in addition to the specific questions on nutrition, we have included other more general ones, to understand if the pandemic had any effect on physical and mental health , on access to health care and financial security ".

Comparing the responses collected in 2018 and those collected in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, the researchers observed that most of the volunteers were convinced that their regime food had not changed much, while the real data said the opposite, which indicates how much personal perceptions were disconnected from reality. In particular, the comparison of the questionnaires showed that indeed there was a significant reduction in the consumption of healthful foods, more pronounced among women and the Black and Hispanic communities.

Another survey, conducted by experts from the American Psychology Association, revealed that 42% of Americans admit they gained weight during the pandemic, with an average weight gain of 13 pounds; and a study validated by Jama Network Open, carried out on a very small sample, 300 people, whose scales were connected remotely to a doctor's office, showed that all participants, regardless of social class and place of residence, started to gain weight during the months of the lockdown, at an average rate of one kilo per month.

But, speaking of contradictory results, we must also mention the results of another work, this time relating to Italy and conducted by the Observatory on food surpluses, recoveries and waste (Oersa) of the Crea Alimenti e Nutrition. The study examined 2900 people residing in all regions of Italy (75% females and 25% males) and, again analyzing the results of a questionnaire, showed an opposite effect compared to that observed overseas: it would seem that in our during the pandemic, the consumption of healthy foods increased, including vegetables (+ 33%), fruit (+ 29%), legumes (+ 26.5%), water (+ 22%), extra virgin olive oil (+ 21.5%).

At the same time, however, 44.5% of the interviewees also admitted to having eaten more sweets, and 16% to have consumed more wine; the lockdown period was also an opportunity to experiment with new foods (+ 40%) and new recipes (+ 31%), for an overall improvement in eating habits and the adoption of a more eco-sustainable lifestyle (the survey highlighted that separate collection has also increased and food waste has decreased). You agree, however, the results on weight gain: 44% of respondents said they had gained weight due to higher caloric intake and less physical activity, and 37% of respondents admitted that they needed to diet.

Alcohol consumption

The results of another very recent study conducted with the European Alcohol and Covid-19 Survey on alcohol consumption during the pandemic are counterintuitive. The work covered 21 European nations and focused on the first months of the pandemic, and showed that there were significant reductions in average per capita alcohol consumption in all countries observed, except Ireland and the United Kingdom. The authors of the work, in particular, collected data on about 32 thousand alcohol users in the period April-August 2020, asking them the frequency of the occasions in which they drank, the quantity of alcohol consumed on each of these occasions, the frequency of heavier episodic drinking and whether each of these elements had changed in the past month. One in five respondents reported "substantial" or "high" levels of stress from the pandemic, and more than half said they suffered from stress due to a sudden break in their routine. For the latter, the decrease in alcohol consumption was less than for the others.

Physical activity

Again, there are still not solid enough data to allow conclusions to be drawn. unique. A study published in March 2021 in the journal Plos One, however, conducted on an extremely small sample (63 volunteers) showed that the changes in physical activity would not be as significant, even if the researchers highlight that "they could accumulate over time until it becomes one ". The authors of the work traced, using the data collected via smartwatches, the habits of the participants, observing an average increase in sleep of about 30 minutes a day and a reduction of 50 minutes a day of "light physical activity", probably due to 'interruption of work-related activities (leaving the house, taking the stairs, etc.).


The analysis of sleep habits led to mixed and inconsistent results: some studies show that people slept more and more soundly; others, however, the exact opposite, with shorter and lower quality sleep, troubled by nightmares, especially among young adults. A study conducted in China has shown an increase in the incidence of insomnia.

Time spent in front of the screen

The results of the work relating to the time spent in front of the screens are more unique. . Which, unsurprisingly, has increased in all age groups. In young people and adolescents, the phenomenon is linked to both distance learning and the inability to carry out outdoor activities, which has meant that they spent most of their free time playing video games or watching movies and TV series. A Canadian study calculated the increase in screen time by 87% for children and adolescents and by 74% and 61% for mothers and fathers, respectively.

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