The pandemic has changed the way people eat in dramatic ways, new research suggests.
Many people are eating more than they used to and some are restricting their intake.
More than half of young people surveyed had some unhealthy weight control behaviours.
The researchers think the changes in eating behaviour are in response to the psychological distress caused by the pandemic.
Dr Melissa Simone, the study’s first author, said:
“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 researchers surveyed over 700 young people about their eating habits and well-being.
The results revealed that 14 percent reported binge eating, 8 percent said they were using very unhealthy weight control behaviours and 53 percent reported some kind of unhealthy weight control behaviours.
They found six main types of changes in eating behaviours:
- Mindless eating and snacking,
- increased food consumption,
- decrease in appetite or dietary intake,
- eating to cope,
- pandemic-related reductions in dietary intake,
- and, a re-emergence or marked increase in eating disorder symptoms.
Professor Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, study co-author, said:
“There has been a lot of focus on obesity and its connection with COVID-19.
It is also important to focus on the large number of people who have been engaging in disordered eating and are at risk for eating disorders during and following the pandemic.”
The study suggested financial problems were often at the heart of changes to eating habits, Dr Simone said:
“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.”
The study was published in the journal Eating Disorders (Simone et al., 2021).