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Weight and Covid-19: Two Public Health Pandemics Colliding

woman measures her waistline

COVID-19 has already caused devastating health troubles but it is set to have far-reaching consequences on our health for decades to come. Particularly those of us that have diabetes, are overweight, have compromised immune health or have heart health troubles, inflammatory diseases to respiratory issues like COPD etc. to name but a few wellness troubles.

Aside from the direct effects of COVID-19, detrimental changes to our physical and mental health thanks to the host of associated adjustments of how we now live is also impacting our wellness and habits.

Social distancing, both mandatory and voluntary, has affected our habits, together with the stress of financial and employment worries, creating distress and as a result putting pressure on our health, especially our immune system.

The resulting behaviour changes also affect physical activity outputs, what we eat, alcohol consumption plus slumber habits. And all key contributors to existing health disparities and indirectly implicated in variations arising thanks to the COVID-19 link.

This e-news reviews the very latest research looking at the response impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on dietary and health habits together with weight changes that many people have experienced as we live within this pandemic.


The first country to be affected by COVID-19 was China and various studies have examined the impact on nutritional habits as a result of access to food sources.

A group of researchers looked at dietary diversity among Chinese Residents during the COVID-19 outbreak using a tool known as the Household Dietary Diversity Score (HDDS). It identified only people living in places where laboratory confirmed COVID-19 cases were highest or living in the epicentre of the pandemic in Hubei Province had a lower HDDS.

There was no significant difference in HDDS among people with distinct dependences on different ways to obtain or purchase food (i.e., dependence on in-person grocery shopping, dependence on both in-house storage and in-person grocery shopping, or dependence on online food purchasing).

Other research data demonstrated the perceived challenges of food shortages at the early stages of the pandemic and as a result became detrimental to resulting dietary issues. In addition, the same study found that 38% of research respondents who consumed certain foods or nutritional supplements to cope with COVID-19, which included vitamin C, probiotics, other dietary supplements had a significantly higher HDDS than those who did not.

As a result, this emerging research illustrated the very fact that associated COVID-19 lockdowns caused pressures on food sources with people forced into eating poorer nutritious diets, lacking in vital vitamins and minerals putting their health at risk now and for the future.

Hence the need to ensure people start to up their vitamin and mineral levels by adopting good, nutritious diets, supported by daily supplementation with a multivitamin and multimineral supplement to bridge dietary gaps is essential as we live with COVID-19.


Italy was the first European country to be deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and had to undertake severe restrictive measures at a national level. The challenges of being sedentary with exercise reduction caused havoc on people’s day to day health and wellness.

In Italian children and adolescents with obesity, unfavourable changes in eating, sleep, and activity behaviours were identified during the lockdown period as a result of school/college closures as well.

Further research borne out of Italy discovered a high percentage of respondents suffering from:

  • A depressed mood (for 61.3%)
  • Anxious feelings (70.4%
  • Hypochondria (46.2%)
  • Insomnia (52.2%.

In addition, almost half of the respondents felt anxious thanks to poor eating habits, as a result of consuming more comfort food and a greater inclination to increase food intakes to feel better and happier.

And the same research study found that women were more apprehensive and disposed to comfort food than men.

Research from Australia reviewing the effect of COVID-19 online, home-based learning found that energy intake was 20% greater in 2020 compared with 2018 and 2019, and the frequency of snacking and energy density of consumed snacks were also increased.

Other research has also found that women seem to ‘stress-eat’ and consume hyperpalatable ‘comfort’ foods, which are typically energy dense. As a result, researchers warn that the addictive properties of energy-dense comfort foods will lead to long-lasting changes to eating behaviours and habits which are set to create health troubles for the future and potentially compromise our immune health.

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World research looking at COVID-19 confinement and changes to dietary trends among teenagers and young adults showed that COVID-19 restrictions has:

  • Influenced dietary habits
  • Modified consumption of fried food, sweet food, legumes, vegetables, and fruits.

Here in the UK an investigation into health changing behaviour during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic found gender, socioeconomic and ethnic inequalities associated with lower fruit and vegetable consumption was very evident. And other emerging research using UK household panel data found that more people suffered from anxiety and depression during the lockdown period, with younger adults sadly suffering the most.

A wider perspective comes from an International Survey looking at the effects of COVID-19 Home Confinement on Eating Behaviour and Physical Activity (PA). It identified COVID-19 home restrictions had a negative effect on all exercise levels whether vigorous, moderate, walking or generally active.

While exercise levels were impacted, sedentary habits increased with people sitting daily for eight hours versus pre-Covid where we sat for five hours in a day. Food consumption and meal patterns (the type of food, eating out of control, snacks between meals, number of main meals) were unhealthier during COVID-19 confinement too.

The same research survey concluded that while isolation is a necessary measure to protect public health, data shows that it alters exercise habits and eating behaviours, compromising people’s health.

The results of this survey also found that, in contrast to the guidance of the World Health Organization, people changed their eating behaviours, with increased consumption of unhealthy food, eating out of control, more snacking between meals and an overall higher number of main meals.  Researchers noted that the majority of eating behaviours were down to:

  • People eating more thanks to stress, anxiety or boredom
  • A dip in motivation to participate in exercise or maintain healthy eating
  • An increase in mood-driven eating

COVID-19 and living in this pandemic is clearly affecting our lifestyles, as well as our health and wellbeing especially those with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM) according to research.

In addition, increased rates of depression and anxiety disorders has sharply risen during the COVID-19 pandemic and for some this is now strongly associated with weight gain.

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To have a strong, healthy, immunity we need to be physically active and fit.  In addition, new research suggests the pressing need to provide support for those people with obesity and T2D—particularly more vulnerable individuals —with advice and help, such as telemedicine initiatives, lifestyle information and interventions, as well as psychological support and guidance to maintain healthy choices, given the uncertainty that surrounds everyone as we live through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meal planning and controlling food composition calories is essential, together with being active and exercising regularly to tackle unhealthy eating habits.

Growing evidence also suggests those people with obesity and T2D are at an increased risk of either chronic or acute diseases, including COVID-19 infections and complications thanks to multiple factors; in particular:


Thanks to COVID-19, many people have been guilty of changing dietary habits with less fresh fruit and vegetables consumed. This means that many of us will be lacking in vital nutrients to fuel and keep our bodies healthy.

Fruits and vegetables are rich in micronutrients and antioxidants. Micronutrients include vitamins that act as antioxidants by reducing inflammatory responses in our bodies and improving our immune health reactions. Antioxidants have a special wellbeing role as they:

  • Increase the number of T-cell subsets
  • Enhance lymphocyte response to mitogen
  • Increase interleukin-2 production
  • Potentiate natural killer cell activity Excess ectopic fat reducing both protective cardiorespiratory reserves
  • Dysregulation of the immune system
  • Pro-inflammatory responses
  • Bad effects on the lung function. As a result, increasing weight might be a vicious circle leading to increased infection risk resulting in the very fact that obesity and COVID-19 infections are two public health pandemics colliding.

Researchers have also identified that people cope with stress by eating and drinking in an attempt to feel better (“stress-related eating”). Stress-driven eaters and drinkers are more likely to consume unhealthy foods such as snacks, hamburgers, soda cola, and chocolate regularly and to drink wine and spirits more frequently.

In addition, the lack of emotional support from friends and relatives is predictive of stress driven eating and drinking behaviours.

<strong>Mike Wakeman MSc, MSc, MSc, MA, BSc (Homs), MRPharmS </strong>

<strong>Mike Wakeman </strong>is a pharmacist with Master’s in Pharmaceutical Analysis, Nutritional Medicine and Clinical Oncology, as well as now engaged in a PhD. He is currently engaged as a healthcare consultant for UK, Irish, German, Canadian, Australian and Japanese companies supplying input to their business and marketing development through a variety of channels as well as providing formulation and technical writing expertise.  His work has been featured on TV, national and local radio stations and in national print.