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Rare but real from the pandemic: Not only “no harm” but good for the diet

Comment by Maria Antonopoulou, Primary Care and Risk Factor Management Section

Preventive Cardiology
Risk Factors and Prevention

The Covid-19 pandemic outbreak still has a detrimental effect to health and welfare worldwide, introducing for the first time in our century the policy of massive mandatory lockdowns around the world, in order to limit the infection spread. Both COVID-19 infection and the subsequent restrictions resulting to limited access to food stores and restaurants, producing also changes to diet (quality and quantity) and food behaviour for the general population (1). The systematic review by C. Mignogna et al. (2), investigated the impact of lockdowns in the aspects of food and beverage intake, eating behaviours and diet quality.

The systematic literature search was conducted from the beginning of the pandemic until 13 June 2021, designed according to PICOS format (Population, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome, Study). The selected observational studies concerned the general population, both adults and children exposed to national lockdowns during the first wave of the outbreak. The quality of eligible studies (n=95) was evaluated using the Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) score with 26 of them characterized as low quality having a JBI score <70%.

Regarding food intake, improvement to diet quality measured as an increase in adherence to Mediterranean diet, i.e. increase of fruit and vegetables (64%), legumes (68%) and cereals (74%) consumption seemed as a trend especially in Mediterranean countries, except France, and a few other countries such as Canada and Mexico. On the other hand, reduced diet quality with a swift to westernized dietary pattern was found in Colombia and Saudi Arabia. Taking in mind the study limitations -heterogeneity of data, poorly validated dietary assessment- an increase intake of unhealthy foods mostly for children was observed. Analyses in alcohol consumption was mixed with a tendency toward increase intake. Dairy products intake was increased (76%) , while a decrease in red and processed meat (56%), unfortunately also to fish (70%) and seafood intake were among the main findings of high-quality assessment studies . Lockdowns lead also to an increase in food intake and the numbers of daily meals and snacking, even if it concerned mostly homemade foods.

According to this systematic review, during the difficult times of COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions, the dietary habits improvement towards healthier patterns for numerous countries, which represented a clearly rather optimistic result. Whether those positive effects could ultimately persist, leading to the establishment of healthier diets worldwide and consecutively to improvement of health indexes, remains to be further evaluated, possibly with future studies post-COVID-19 era.


Maria Antonopoulou commented on this article:

2. Impact of Nationwide Lockdowns Resulting from the First Wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Food Intake, Eating Behaviors, and Diet Quality: A Systematic Review
Cristiana Mignogna, et al.
Advances in Nutrition, Volume 13, Issue 2, March 2022, Pages 388–423

other references:

1. Self-reported impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on diet-related behaviours and food security in five countries: results from the International Food Policy Study 2020, Rachel B Acton, et al, The Journal of Nutrition, March 2022

Notes to editor

Note: The content of this article reflects the personal opinion of the author/s and is not necessarily the official position of the European Society of Cardiology.