28.07.2022 00:00 Age: 21 days

Psychological strain and eating habits in the pandemic – according to survey 35 percent report weight gain since the beginning of the Corona pandemic

Category: Research

Scientists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have investigated possible changes in adult dietary habits and body weight after more than two years of pandemic. The results: 35 percent of those surveyed have gained weight, in some cases considerably, since the beginning of the pandemic. However, 15 percent of the adults have in part drastically lost weight since the beginning of the Corona crisis.

Prof. Dr. med. Hans Hauner, Professor for Nutritional Medicine at TUM and Director of the EKFZ (Image: Juli Eberle / TUM / ediundsepp Gestaltungsgesellschaft).

Prof. Martina de Zwaan, head of the Clinic for Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy at the Hannover Medical School (Image source: private).

TUM's Else Kröner-Fresenius Center for Nutritional Medicine (EKFZ) joined forces with the opinion research institute Forsa to survey 1,005 persons in Germany between the ages of 18 and 70 chosen according to a systematic random process. The scientists' primary focus is on the psyche: What is the connection between dietary habits and psychological conditions? During the past year 42 percent of those surveyed experienced some psychological stress due to the changes resulting from the Corona situation, while 20 percent experienced strong psychological stress for the same reason.

"The change is undesirable, from a health-care point of view"

The majority of respondents, approximately two thirds, indicated that their dietary habits have not fundamentally changed since the beginning of the pandemic. However, those respondents who felt stress resulting from the Corona situation indicated more frequently that their dietary habits had changed. "The change is undesirable, from a health-care point of view," says Hans Hauner, Professor for Nutritional Medicine at TUM and Director of the EKFZ.

35 percent of all those surveyed indicated that they weighed more compared to the period before the Corona pandemic, at an average of 6.5 kilograms, more than was the case one year ago. Weight gain was reported in particular by those respondents who had a higher initial weight and less physical movement than before the Corona pandemic; the same was true for those who experienced psychological stress as a result of the pandemic during the past year.

Almost one third of all those surveyed indicated that they eat more, and eat more often. In most cases they are referring to foodstuffs such as sweets, sweet baked goods, snack items and fast-food. This detrimental choice of foods was noticeably more frequent among adults who experienced psychological strain than among individuals who reported no psychological strain. Although the psychological strain correlates with a change in eating habits, according to the survey 20 percent of the respondents reporting psychological strain now have healthier eating habits than before.

Increase in illnesses related to weight and lifestyle feared

"Unfortunately, during the Corona pandemic many people didn't succeed in keeping their weight under control," says Professor Hauner. He fears a resulting increase in weight-related and lifestyle-related illnesses in the years to come. "We have to expect a rise in the incidence of type 2 diabetes in the near future."
As a short-term countermeasure, Hauner recommends that people be informed of these connections and be offered concrete assistance when desired. "Many people with weight problems need outside help. Health policy could initiate campaigns aimed at motivating and supporting people."

15 percent of those surveyed lost weight

15 percent of the individuals surveyed have reduced their weight during the same period – on average by 7.9 kilograms. "This is consonant with the results of other studies," comments Prof. Martina de Zwaan, head of the Clinic for Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy at the Hannover Medical School (MHH). "This can be an indication of a healthier lifestyle: Life has been less hectic, people had more time to cook their own food and pay more attention to healthier nutrition."

One noteworthy result is that a significant portion (19 percent) of young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 lost weight, as did many survey participants (18 percent) with a Body Mass Index of less than 20. "There are also studies which clearly show a rise in eating disorders during the pandemic," says de Zwaan. This is attributed to reduced opportunities for participating in sports, loss of familiar and reassuring structures, social isolation, general insecurity, an increase in depression and psychological stress, and is also linked to a possible increase in the use of social media, which often confront users with pursuit of thinness and stigmatization of weight.

Because of the different behavioral patterns in the Corona pandemic, both experts additionally recommend better education on the topic together with individual solutions in the form of nutritional counseling.

Online expert discussion of the Else Kröner Fresenius Center for Nutritional Medicine from July 28, 2022

For more information, please visit: www.ekfs.de

High resolution images: 

Dr. Katharina Baumeister
Technical University of Munich
Corporate Communications Center
Tel. +49 8161 71 5403

Scientific contact:
Prof. Dr. med. Hans Hauner
TUM School of Life Sciences
Professorship for Nutritional Medicine
Tel. +49 8161 71 2000