Is Diet Differences Responsible For Covid-19 Deaths?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on human health and caused sudden disruption to our lives, with huge lifestyle, social and economic consequences. It has also highlighted to us the important role that diet and lifestyle plays in our health.

While COVID-19 affects all groups, research suggests that people who are very overweight (obesity) and those with underlying diet-related comorbidities, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, are at an increased risk of hospitalisation and mortality due to COVID-19.

Today, the COVID Symptom Study app has launched a detailed diet and lifestyle questionnaire to help researchers further investigate the impact of diet and lifestyle on COVID-19 symptoms and severity. The questionnaire has been developed by a team of expert nutritional scientists from King’s College London, together with international collaborators from Harvard University and Stanford University.

Dr Sarah Berry, Associate Professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at King’s College London and principal scientist advising ZOE, comments:

“Lockdown has had a harmful impact on our diet and lifestyle, which in turn may impact people’s chances of catching COVID and their disease severity. To understand these impacts fully, we need your help to answer some important questions on your diet and lifestyle habits both now and before lockdown.”

The questionnaire will take approximately 10-15 minutes to complete and will help researchers gain more detailed insights about the impact of lockdown on diet quality, dietary habits, physical activity, sleep, and food access, amongst other factors.

With over 4 million app users, this study has the potential to be one of the largest nutrition research projects ever undertaken, and will provide key insights towards future diet and lifestyle recommendations for the general population to help fight this disease and other nutrition-related health outcomes.

What do we know so far about diet, lifestyle behaviours and COVID-19?

Despite the known links between obesity and diet-related chronic diseases, there is a lot that we still don’t know about the direct impact that diet and lifestyle behaviours might have on COVID symptoms and severity. In general, we know that a healthy diet helps to support our immune system. While no specific food or supplement can ‘boost’ your immune system, there are many nutrients found in the food we eat that may support immunity.

However, we do not eat nutrients in isolation; rather, we eat them as part of foods that are eaten in the context of larger dietary patterns. At this point we don’t have a detailed understanding of which foods, dietary patterns, eating and lifestyle behaviours have a direct impact on COVID symptoms and severity. By completing this validated food questionnaire, you will play a key role in helping us improve our understanding of how whole foods and dietary patterns, as well as other lifestyle habits, impact COVID-19 symptoms and severity.

Digging deeper: How has lockdown impacted our diet and lifestyle habits?

Data from the COVID Symptom Study suggest that almost a third (29%) of those surveyed have gained weight since the start of lockdown in the UK. This is potentially due to unhealthy diet and lifestyle behaviours including increased snacking and alcohol consumption that, if maintained in the long term, may increase the nutrition-related burden of disease.

For some, limited access to fresh foods during lockdown may have contributed to an increased consumption of highly processed foods, and compromised opportunities to eat a healthy and diverse diet. For others, the lockdown has given them more time to cook from scratch and share meals with other members of their household.

Many people have experienced high levels of stress and boredom during the COVID-19 outbreak, which may have contributed to increased snacking behaviours. For example, stress has been associated with ‘overeating’ - particularly of comfort foods which tend to be high in sugar.

This more detailed questionnaire will allow researchers to build on their current understanding of the broader implications that lockdown and this pandemic have had on the diet and lifestyle of the UK population.

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