Spanish consumers shifted to healthier diets during COVID-19 confinement – study
In research published in the journal Nutrients scientists at the Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology at the University of Grenada questioned over 7,500 men and women across Spain (37% were aged below 35 years, 70.6% were female) via a web-based questionnaire on their dietary habits during the first three weeks of Spain’s lockdown period.
The results outlined healthier dietary behaviours during the confinement when compared to previous habits. Participants decreased their intake of fried foods, snacks, fast foods, red meat, pastries or sweet beverages, but increased MedDiet-related foods such as olive oil, vegetables, fruits or legumes during the confinement.
The study’s authors said this dietary improvement, if sustained in the long-term, could have a positive impact on the prevention of chronic diseases and COVID-19-related complications.
Spain has been one of the European countries, besides the UK and Italy, to have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. A ‘State of alarm’ was declared in the county on 14 March 2020 and the population was ordered to stay at home for four weeks.
The researchers denied the shift to a healthier Med diet among respondents during the lockdown was the result of a lack of availability of other foods.
“The reality is that it was difficult to find some specific foods such as chicken in some (not all) supermarkets/grocery stores at the beginning of the confinement, but in general -- only 28% of participants declared to have had any difficulty in finding specific type of foods -- all types of foods were available during the confinement, not only those associated to the MedDiet which could be considered the healthiest ones,” Celia Rodríguez-Pérez, one of the study’s authors told FoodNavigator.
“The improvement in dietary behaviours was not only associated with the food choices but also with cooking type or the increment of cooking frequency.”
What does the study tell us about demands in future?
Will these trends stick? The healthy dietary habits tended to decrease after the first three weeks of confinement, according to the study. However, that trend was not statistically significant, said Rodríguez-Pérez.
“We could have had a better overview of this if the questionnaire had been opened for longer but this was not the main objective of the project. We wanted to know the ‘real’ impact at the beginning of that novel situation. So, it is difficult to predict the demands in the future. Most probably the frequency of cooking will decrease when people come back to work daily and this will probably have an impact in the type of cooking that people will use and also in the number of meals out of home that usually is associated with unhealthy food choices, especially in the youngest population.”
She added that the main goal of the researchers now is to raise awareness of the necessity of maintaining the healthy behaviours that we started during the confinement to turn them into habits.
“This is important since the role of the Mediterranean Diet in preventing/ameliorating COVID-19-related complications seems to be connected,” she said.
Changes in Dietary Behaviours during the COVID-19 Outbreak Confinement in the Spanish COVIDiet Study
Authors: Celia Rodríguez-Pérez, Esther Molina-Montes, Vito Verardo, Reyes Artacho, Belén García-Villanova, Eduardo Jesús Guerra-Hernández and María Dolores Ruíz-López