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Food habits

Corona is making people, especially women, comfort eat more

During the first corona lockdown, a third of us ate more sweet things and rinsed it down with copious amounts of soda and alcohol, according to a study from the University of Southern Denmark. The strange thing is that Italians and Spaniards, who experienced tougher lockdowns, ate healthier.

By Birgitte Dalgaard, , 5/7/2021

If you think your trousers are sitting tight around your belly, you are definitely not the only one experiencing it. About one-third of us report that we have gained weight under corona.

A study from the University of Southern Denmark of Danes' eating and exercise habits during the first corona lockdown shows that more sweets and alcohol have consumed, while running shoes have collected dust.

– About 30 per cent of the participants in the questionnaire survey answered that during the first corona lockdown they consumed more cake, soda and alcohol, and the figures show that it is especially the women's eating habits that are affected. Approximately the same percentage also reports less exercise, says Associate Professor Davide Giacalone from the Department of Technology and Innovation, who is behind the study in collaboration with the University of Copenhagen.

People use foods such as chocolate, sweets, cakes, and alcohol as emotional comfort food, which can soothe difficult emotions.

Davide Giacalone, Associate Professor

The study clearly shows that some of the energy that was previously used for exercise have instead been used to stir up a cake dough. As many as 38 per cent reports that they have eaten several homemade cakes during the lockdown.

If Associate Professor Davide Giacalone has to suggest as to why the corona lockdown made us snack more, he points out that we are simply seeking comfort in food.

– We know from the literature that people use foods such as chocolate, sweets, cakes, and alcohol as emotional comfort food, which can soothe difficult emotions, says Davide Giacalone and he elaborates:

Poorer diet in difficult times

– We know from studies that people who go through a difficult period also come to have a poorer diet. The same idea applies to people suffering from anxiety and depression; they generally eat more unhealthily in the form of more sweets, cake, and alcohol. It is an interpretation, but it is reasonable to think that the same mechanisms apply during the corona lockdown.

Davide Giacalone points out that there are important individual differences in the way the corona closure affects us. By looking at the numbers, he has found a tendency for the crisis to simply intensify the way we already eat.

– The figures show that if you and your family already lived healthily, then you generally ate even healthier and exercised more during the lockdown, while already bad eating habits became even more unhealthy, explains Davide Giacalone.

In countries with very hard closure, people have generally had a lower intake of meat and eaten more vegetables and fish.

Davide Giacalone, Associate Professor

Together with 37 other European researchers, Davide Giacalone has in another study compared how the populations of 16 EU countries have eaten their way through the first corona lockdown.

The interesting thing is that the harder the closure of the individual country, the healthier the population has generally lived.

– In countries with very hard closure, people have generally had a lower intake of meat and eaten more vegetables and fish - that is, eating more of the foods that are part of a healthy Mediterranean diet, Davide Giacalone explains.

Focus on healthy living

The picture is striking when researchers compare people's alcohol intake. 30 per cent of Danes answer that they drank more alcohol during the first lockdown. Only 16 per cent of Italians and 10 per cent of Spaniards answer that they drank more.

-– For example, Italy and Spain were initially hard hit by corona with many deaths as a result, my interpretation is that it caused the population in general to have a greater focus on healthy living. In addition, there were also quick reports that obese people had a greater risk of dying from corona, it may also have influenced people to eat healthier, says Davide Giacalone and elaborates:

More time to cook

– In addition, people have had more time to cook. There may have been a tendency to replace takeaway food with homemade meals created according to traditional Mediterranean diet recipes.

– We tend to think that young people in Southern Europe eat Mediterranean food, but they do not. They eat a lot of processed takeaway.

Facts about the study

Approximately 2,500 Danes have answered a questionnaire with 40 questions about eating habits and exercise during the first corona lockdown.

The report is published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Nutrition

In the international survey, 36,000 Europeans answered similar questions.

The report is published in the scientific journal Food Quality andPreference.

Meet the researcher

Davide Giacalone is an Associate Professor in the testing and optimisation of consumer products at SDU Innovation and Design Engineering at the Department of Technology and Innovation. He researches, in particular, in the perception and behaviour of consumers towards everyday products, primarily in the field of food.


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Editing was completed: 07.05.2021