COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on eating habits in Saudi Arabia
Background: COVID-19 virus has been reported as a pandemic in March 2020 by the WHO. Having a balanced and healthy diet routine can help boost the immune system, which is essential in fighting viruses. Public Health officials enforced lockdown for residents resulting in dietary habits change to combat sudden changes.
Design and Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted through an online survey to describe the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the eating habits, quality and quantity of food intake among adults in Saudi Arabia. SPSS version 24 was used to analyze the data. Comparison between general dietary habits before and during COVID-19 for ordinal variables was performed by Wilcoxon Signed Rank test, while McNemar test was performed for nominal variables. The paired samples t-test was used to compare the total scores for food quality and quantity before and during COVID-19 periods.
Results: 2706 adults residing in Riyadh completed the survey. The majority (85.6%) of the respondents reported eating home-cooked meals on a daily basis during COVID-19 as compared to 35.6% before (p<0.001). The mean score for the quality of food intake was slightly higher (p=0.002) before the COVID-19 period (16.46±2.84) as compared to the during period (16.39±2.79). The quantity of food mean score was higher (p<0.001) during the COVID-19 period (15.70±2.66) as compared to the before period (14.62±2.71).
Conclusion: Dietary habits have changed significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic among Riyadh residents. Although some good habits increased, the quality and the quantity of the food was compromised. Public Health officials must focus on increased awareness on healthy eating during pandemics to avoid negative consequences. Future research is recommended to better understand the change in dietary habits during pandemics using a detailed food frequency questionnaire.
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