Five New Insights into the COVID-19 Pandemic’s Effects on Eating and Health


The COVID-19 pandemic affected people at all stages of life from seniors to newborns. New studies examine the causes and effects of COVID-19-related food insecurity, how the pandemic affected breastfeeding practices and more.

Internet access and food security in older adults

In a new study, researchers from University of Texas at San Antonio sought to find out how technology use and access are related to food security in at-risk, independently living older adults during COVID-19. The researchers analyzed results from surveys of 557 older adults who attended congregate meal sites in November 2020. Forty-two percent of respondents indicated they were food insecure during the survey period. The analysis revealed that food insecurity in older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with poorer social and mental well-being and less access to the internet. These findings suggest that technology access should be considered when developing interventions to address food insecurity for older adults.

Breastfeeding experiences during stay-at-home orders

Investigators from Saint Louis University explored how the COVID-19 pandemic may have impacted mothers’ roles and breastfeeding practices in the U.S. Mothers of a child 12 months of age or younger were asked via an online survey whether they thought their breastfeeding habits would have been different without the pandemic and to answer an open-ended question asking how the pandemic modified or impacted plans to feed their baby. Of the 1,861 mothers who completed the survey in July or August 2020, one-third thought the pandemic impacted their breastfeeding habits. The survey results revealed that some mothers found that the extra time at home facilitated a bond between them and their baby, resulting in breastfeeding longer than planned. However, many mothers reported the COVID-19 pandemic to be stressful, and in some cases, mothers reported low milk supply due to stress.

Giving birth during the COVID-19 pandemic

Researchers from Louisiana State University assessed anxiety, confusion and breastfeeding self-efficacy — a mother’s perception of her ability to breastfeed — among mothers who gave birth during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study included 180 mothers in 44 states and four U.S. territories recruited via social media ads to take a 78-item web-based survey between May and December 2020 and again at 6 weeks postpartum. At 6 weeks postpartum, just over 95% were either exclusively breastfeeding or combination feeding. The researchers found that mothers in the study were able to maintain planned infant feeding decisions and retained high breastfeeding self-efficacy despite the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. They say that the increasing availability of the COVID-19 vaccine may have helped ease anxiety among new mothers.

Food insecurity and distress around managing diabetes

Researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health analyzed associations between food insecurity and diabetes distress related to COVID-19 in adults with pre-diabetes or diabetes. The study was based on a national, web-based survey administered to low-income adults in June 2020. Diabetes distress was measured by assessing emotional burden, physician-related distress, self-management-related distress and interpersonal distress. During the pandemic, about 16% of respondents showed moderate diabetes distress, and around 26% experienced high distress. Adults with food insecurity were more likely to report high or moderate diabetes distress compared to those who were food secure. Based on these findings, the researchers say that healthcare providers should screen for diabetes distress and connect patients to resources to help manage food and mental health needs.

Vitamin A levels in hospitalized COVID-19 patients

Vitamin A plays a key role in regulating the immune system, development of lung tissue and repair of infection-related damage. To better understand its potential role in COVID-19, University Hospital Muenster researchers compared vitamin A blood plasma levels in critically ill and recovering COVID-19 patients. The study is one of the first to differentiate between unbound free vitamin A, retinol-binding protein (RBP) and total vitamin A. They found that critically ill patients in the acute phase of COVID-19 showed significantly decreased total vitamin A and RBP-bound levels compared to patients who were recovering. Although these results support previous studies that have shown vitamin A deficiency in patients with acute infections, the researchers say that more work is needed to understand how this deficiency might affect COVID-19 disease progression.

These studies and more were presented at  NUTRITION 2022 

Source: American Society for Nutrition (ASN)

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