By April 2020, 3.9 billion people, or half of the world’s population had been placed on lockdown in concerted attempts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

These lockdowns, brought on by government orders or encouragement —  mandated a change in our routines and lifestyles: working from home, group Zoom workouts, virtual classrooms, swapping restaurant visits for Uber Eats etc.

But beyond these changes to our routines, the measures necessary to manage covid-19 have brought and will bring major lifestyle changes, notably when it comes to nutrition. From limited access to necessary nutrients, to changes in our consumption habits  — we’ll be examining the immediate ways the coronavirus will affect our nutrition and consider the short and long term lifestyle changes we can expect.

How Covid-19 Could Impact Your Nutrition

1. Emotional eating caused by stress and anxiety

By our general participation in country-wide lockdowns, we were made unwilling participants in the world’s largest psychological experiment. The experiment would follow our reactions to the uncertainty of an insecure job market, our fears of unwittingly contracting the virus, possible stress disorders from watching a loved one fight through the virus, or the trauma of witnessing the last moments of a family member electronically.

Our reactions are usually steeped in anxiety and fear, emotional reactions that often resort to low mood, insomnia, emotional exhaustion, depression, PTSD and also emotional eating. Emotional eating usually leads to higher sugar consumption to provide the body with dopamine for motivation and reward. It also causes increased sugar intake to provide the body with short term bursts of energy as well as over eating brought on by stress.

Maintaining an eating schedule, being mindful of what you consume and finding healthy sugar sources when cravings hit can help in maintaining healthy eating habits while the virus is managed.

2. Supply chain disruptions impacting balance in nutrition

As economic implications of the virus, households worldwide may have to deal with the realities of unemployment or pay cuts brought on by reduced trading activity. This will greatly influence the amount of money available to spend on necessaries and compound the need to stretch the dollar to cover the cheapest calories like rice, maize, or inexpensive, overly processed foods for purchase. This often leads to the neglect of important micronutrients found in more expensive food options like fruits and vegetables. Options which saw their biggest price hike in fifty years, due to supply disruptions at the peak of the coronavirus in April 2020.

Where possible, concessions must be made to ensure that a balanced diet is consumed. This diet, though expensive, grants households a stronger chance against the virus as well as ailments courtesy nutrient deficiencies.

3.Less eating out but increased consumption of alcohol and sugar

Like America, which has around 21% of its population dependent on restaurants for its calories ⁠— when a great majority of the population derives its nutrients from restaurants whose meals are usually of low nutritional value, a large number of diet-related diseases like diabetes and hypertension are sure to follow.

With the precautions and restrictions in place to curb the spread of the virus however, more people are substituting paid for meals for home-made delicacies. This move could spell good news for healthier diets in households where healthy ingredients are used.

However, this good news is slightly dampened by a similar uptick in the demand for unhealthy foods like alcohol, flour and sugar.

4.Maternal and Infant nutrition

The coronavirus could threaten maternal and infant nutrition

To ensure that mother and child come out healthy and strong, the stages of pregnancy and childbirth require nutritional demands that are largely non-negotiable. Nutrients like iron, calcium, Vitamin b12, Vitamin B6 etc are highly essential for mother and baby’s health. These demands are usually fulfilled from organic food sources or nutritional supplements.

With the spread of the virus however, both nutrient sources may be threatened due to the disruptions to the food systems. UNICEF predicts that this may come about from obstructions to the import of nutrient rich-foods and nutritional supplements necessary to prevent malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies. This supply shortage may also lead to increased pricing. The disruptions are usually felt most strongly in low income households.

The coronavirus could prevent access to nutrition counselling

Maternal and infant nutrition may also be affected by a lack of access to proper nutritional counselling, usually provided by the healthcare centres during antenatal and postnatal classes. These classes are where necessary information on mother and baby’s appropriate diet are shared.

Counselling could be affected by restrictions to mobility, the demands of social distancing but most likely, by the overwhelmed healthcare system.

Without adequate nutrition, expectant mother and child are left exposed to premature delivery, the inability to lactate, birth defects, a weakened immunity from the coronavirus and other diseases etc.

Concessions for these vulnerable members of society must be made by respective governments to ensure their nutritional needs are met.

How The Coronavirus May Affect Our Nutrition In The Next 12 Months

The coronavirus is a global pandemic whose growing infection numbers are a cause for worldwide concern and the adoption of healthier living and eating habits. With covid-19 being directly linked to changes in our nutritional sources and requirements, here’s how we expect the coronavirus to impact our nutrition in the coming months:

Increased immunity

With the pandemic largely affecting our diets and mandating a shift from restaurant-bought food to homemade cooking — we can gain stronger control over the ingredients used, and restrict our choices to strictly healthy food options.

This is likely to strengthen the body’s immunity. With new research revealing that major risk factors like diabetes, obesity increase the chances of being hospitalized with the coronavirus, it can be surmised that consistently consuming foods rich in nutrients, especially Vitamins A, D, B6, B12, C and Zinc — will greatly boost immune systems, and just as greatly, reduce the odds of hospitalization for the virus when taken in the right amounts.

Our increased sedentary habits may lead to obesity

Boredom, stress and anxiety are known off-shoots of dealing with the reality of the coronavirus. Research has linked boredom to increased eating habits brought on by the body’s need to distract from the experience. While anxiety and stress are known to lead to overeating in the long run.    

With 2021 being a modest prediction for activity levels worldwide to resume a semblance of normalcy - should boredom and anxiety levels persist, an uptick in unhealthy eating habits like processed food snacking and overeating may be observed. This may in turn contribute to growing cases of obesity.

At its current trajectory, the coronavirus is set to change the course of life as we know it. While its impact on lifestyles is apparent in changes to our work life, physical interactions etc, the effect it has and will have on nutrition is not as easily detected.

The Coronavirus Could Also Impact Your Wellbeing

Drawing from nutrition, the domino effects of the coronavirus may also be felt in the sleep and mental health aspects of our wellbeing.

While anxiety from the uncertainty of the times may lead to increased sleep deprivation, and the ripple effects of watching loved ones and strangers alike battle the virus can leave one vulnerable to depression — a straight line can also be drawn from affected nutrition brought on by the coronavirus, all the way to sleep and depression during these times.

Our poorer feeding habits brought on by emotional eating and a high-sugar diet will likely lead to a deficiency of essential nutrients, necessary for mood stabilisation and sleep.

Such nutrients include Vitamin D which regulates the mood. Folate, whose deficiency can lead to higher chances of depression. B-12, a vitamin whose abundance is associated with a better treatment outcome for depression, and whose shortage can lead to increase in depression; as well as zinc - a nutrient pivotal to regulating the body’s response to stress.

Sleep is just as affected, with a study confirming that eating less fiber and more saturated fats and sugar — likely outcomes of the coronavirus, could lead to lighter, less restorative sleep.

To keep a steady rein on our well being, those marginally affected by disruptions to the food systems like expectant and new mothers, must be given necessary aid to ensure their nutritional requirements are met.

Healthy eating habits that encourage the consumption of a balanced diet and the avoidance of unhealthy snacking should also be observed by individuals to maintain the wellbeing.