Study identifies the rise and fall of lifestyle habits during pandemic
40 per cent of survey respondents in a new study reported to increasing healthy lifestyle habits such as healthy eating (Pexels/Kampus Production)
More than three years after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, a new study is looking at how the international health crisis has changed the lifestyle habits of Canadians.
The research, conducted by McGill University in Montreal, found that 60 per cent of the roughly 1,600 Canadians surveyed say their lifestyle habits either improved or remained the same during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the study also found that 40 per cent of respondents reported less healthy lifestyle habits formed during the health crisis.
Researchers assessed data from across the country during the first wave of COVID-19 infections. They measured healthy habits as more physical activity, better sleep and stress management practices. Less healthy habits included less physical activity, worse sleep and less healthy eating.
“The good news is that the majority of participants maintained or even improved their lifestyle habits” explained Stéphanie Chevalier, associate professor of McGill’s School of Human Nutrition, in a news release.
Lead author of the study Anne-Julie Tessier, a research fellow at Harvard University, added that people who reported dissatisfaction from their body image, along with those who experienced depression, stress or identified as a gender minority, were more likely to adopt less healthy habits.
In a phone interview with CTVNews.ca, Chevalier noted that body image dissatisfaction was “independent of other factors,” such as stress and depression, although all three are likely correlated.
“Our hypothesis is that people not satisfied with their body image are usually reflective of mental health status that is more fragile,” she said. “And that could also be associated with other factors such as stress and more depression.”
She also explained that it’s difficult to pinpoint whether these factors existed prior to the pandemic or were the actual result of the health crisis.
“Sometimes we can not say what comes first,” she said, explaining that some of the survey questions referred to states of lifestyle prior to COVID-19 while others -- such as questions about body image dissatisfaction -- did not.
Another variable Chevalier recognized is the importance of socialization when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle -- something that quarantine restrictions limited.
Although their questionnaire did not specifically ask about habits of socializing -- whether online or during physical-distancing walks, data was collected about the living arrangements of respondents, including whether they lived alone, with roommates, or family. Despite this, no evident changes were apparent in their cohort of participants.
“Our research may help in identifying people with higher health risks during a crisis such as a pandemic,” Tessier said in the news release. “And in developing strategies to support people facing mental health challenges to prevent potential health deterioration in the future.”
Chevalier says this study also shines light on the importance for mental health and wellbeing support to come from various fields of expertise.
“We need more support from psychologists, kinesiologists, dieticians working together to address all of those factors together. Not just mental health. Not just nutrition. But all of it together.”