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What effect is the corona pandemic having on what Danes eat?

Food, fish and agriculture Nutrition and dietary habits Food safety

Closing down Denmark has turned Danes’ daily routines upside down. The National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, has set out to study the changes in what Danes currently eat and how much exercise they get.

Daily life in Denmark is markedly different because of the country shutting down in an attempt to curb the corona pandemic. Large sections of the population have worked and studied from home for weeks, people have maintained physical distance and lived lives that smell of hand sanitizer and soap.

Some research indicates that many people start eating differently when in a crisis or stressed out. How much Danes exercise and the ways in which they exercise has also changed significantly, because gyms are closed, sports activities are canceled, and many do not need to cycle or walk to get to work and school.

One study put on hold, another study launched

Since our current dietary and physical activity habits differ from our usual habits, researchers at the National Food Institute have put the recently launched national survey of diet and physical activity on hold, as it would not give a true picture of the Danes' usual habits.

Instead, researchers have seized the chance to map what 18-65-year-old Danes eat and drink, and how much exercise they are getting during this changed everyday life by conducting an online questionnaire survey during weeks 14 and 15 with the participation of 1,300 Danes from YouGov's national web panel.

The survey will be repeated in September using the same respondents, when everyday life in Denmark is hopefully more or less back to normal. The aim is to be able to identify differences between corona daily life and ordinary daily life.

The researchers will analyze the collected data with the aim of examining dietary and physical activity habits, stress levels and self-perceived changes in dietary and physical activity habits in relation to the participants' work situation. In addition, sociodemographic and lifestyle characteristics will be mapped in the groups that have eaten the most and the least healthily during the corona pandemic.

The effect of a different everyday life on illness cases

Another team of researchers at the National Food Institute is taking the opportunity to investigate a different effect of the corona pandemic. They will test a hypothesis that Danes' increased focus on hand hygiene as well as changes in what they eat and who prepares the food will lead to a decrease in the number of foodborne illness cases.

Therefore, until 26 April the institute is conducting a smaller online survey, which will map e.g., whether people’s dietary and grocery shopping habits are different from their usual habits and whether the food is homemade or takeaways. Survey respondents are mainly recruited via social media and approximately 180 Danes have completed the survey so far.

When official data showing how many Danes have fallen ill from seven foodborne illnesses during the shutdown become available, researchers will compare them with data from the same time period in other years to chart the effects of the current, changed shopping and food preparation habits.

Read more

Read the questionnaire and learn more about the latter survey: Food consumption and preparation during COVID-19 Epidemics in Denmark. Please take five minutes to participate in the English language survey by Sunday 26 April.


Physiological reasons for eating differently

There are physiological reasons why people start to eat differently when their world is turned upside down: Firstly, stress leads to elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can increase appetite. Secondly, sugary foods trigger dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter associated with motivation and reward. Eating can thereby drown out negative emotions.

Seeking pleasure or relaxation through food is a normal reaction. In a 2013 study of adults, conducted by the American Psychological Association, 38% reported eating more than normal or eating more unhealthy foods due to increased stress.