Blame stress from the COVID-19 pandemic for making America’s already poor eating habits worse, says a Ball State University researcher.
A survey of 838 adults found that the pandemic increased stress, which affected eating behaviors and decreased diet quality, according to Jay Kandiah, interim dean of the Ball State College of Health.
“While the origins of pandemic-related stress are multifactorial, certain vulnerable groups continue to bear the brunt of greater stress from the pandemic,” she said. “Diet is a key determinant of individual health, and pandemic-related stress is affecting the eating practices of individuals. Long term continuation of unhealthy eating practices can impose an additional burden on the health of Americans, especially those who are vulnerable to greater stress and deprivation.”
The findings are in the study “The COVID-19 Pandemic, Stress, and Eating Practices in the United States,” which was published in the October issue of the European Journal of Investigation in Health, Psychology, and Education. Kandiah conducted the study with Diana Saiki, Ball State professor of fashion merchandising, and former Ball State researcher Jagdish Khubchandani, who is now at New Mexico State University.
The study found that about 31% reported that their diet has worsened during the pandemic. Furthermore, stress levels are significantly higher for those engaging in unhealthy eating practices and for those who reported that their diet had worsened.
The study also found that more than one-tenth of participants reported practicing more unhealthy eating practices during the pandemic. Unhealthy eating included fasting (16%), restricting eating (20%), skipping meals (25%), and overeating (39%).
Kandiah pointed out that in recent decades, poor diets, stress, and obesity have increased in the American population and are considered the leading causes of death in the nation.
The research team stressed that policymakers and public health practitioners should redouble their efforts in preventing morbidity and premature mortality by implementing interventions that address the multiple detrimental stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic.