The truth about those ‘lockdown kilos’

junk food: french fries

A large national survey has found that more than half of Australian adults experienced over-eating or poor appetite during the first COVID-19 lockdown

The paper, led by Dr Alice Owen from the Monash University School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, found one in 10 adults experienced this every day.

The research examined survey responses on eating behaviour from 13,829 people from 3 April to 2 May 2020.

More than half (53.6%) reported being bothered by poor appetite or overeating in the previous fortnight with 11.6% reporting these issues affecting them nearly every day. 

Dr Owen said those who experienced these were more likely to be people living with high levels of anxiety; women; people who were very worried about contracting COVID-19; those in lockdown with children; and those who felt more severely impacted by being in lockdown.

Also at higher risk were people aged under 40, those living alone or without a partner, and those living in a house they shared with non-family members.

There appeared to be some protection from disordered eating in those who were older; living with adult family members without children; of higher socioeconomic status; not being in paid work/study before COVID-19 and those living in a regional area.

Dr Owen suggested that there are several potential reasons why eating behaviour may have changed during the April COVID-19 lockdown, including emotional eating, uptake of ‘iso-baking’ or perhaps finding it harder to ‘physically distance’ from the kitchen pantry. 

The findings of this research mirrored what has been seen in other countries during lockdown, she said. In Italy 53% of people reported eating more, with almost one in five reporting weight gain.

Dr Owen said the data from the survey indicates that “there should be an informed and targeted public health strategy to assist people to restore healthier eating patterns during confinement, given that these may be ongoing, at differing levels, for some time.”

Meanwhile another study, Distilling our changing relationship with alcohol during COVID-19, found that the pandemic changed alcohol purchasing and consumption patterns in individual and unexpected ways.

Supported by the UNSW COVID Rapid Release Research Fund, the study also examined the extent to which these changes have been sustained post-lockdown.

“What we have found is largely a good news story, although unfortunately not for all groups,” said Professor Alison Ritter AO, Director of the Drug Policy Modelling Program at UNSW’s Social Policy Research Centre.

“There is not one story here. As such our findings suggest that future policy to curb problematic drinking should take a more targeted and nuanced approach towards different groups as a one-size approach to policy does not fit all.”

Two in three people surveyed reported no change or a decrease in their alcohol consumption during the pandemic. Additionally, participants who reported having an average of 20 standard drinks per week pre-lockdown were the most likely to reduce consumption, the study found.

“This level of drinking is above the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines for low-risk drinking,” Prof. Ritter says.

“So a reduction in consumption for this group in particular points to an increase in resilience and agency with respondents recognising this time as an opportunity for looking after themselves.”

Most people were drinking for social reasons before lockdown; during lockdown this declined, but without an increase in drinking motivated by negative feelings, the study found.

However, drinking alone which has been considered a marker for alcohol-related harm increased, particularly for men.

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