In this study, we have provided for the first time data on the Italian population lifestyle, eating habits and adherence to the Mediterranean Diet pattern during the COVID-19 lockdown. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing, our data need to be confirmed and investigated in future more extensive population studies.
The EHLC-COVID19 project was carried out by the Section of Clinical Nutrition and Nutrigenomic, Department of Biomedicine and Prevention of the University of Rome Tor Vergata, using a web-survey to obtain data, from every Italian region, about people eating habits and lifestyle during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To our knowledge, this study was among one of the first to investigate the immediate impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on eating habits and lifestyle changes among Italian residents. The web-survey was concluded on 24th of April 2020 as it was the first day in Italy with the same number of newly infected and cured people. To that date, according to National Civil Protection Service data , the total number of assessed cases in Italy was 192,994: 106,527 people have tested positive; 60,498 patients have recovered; 25,969 died as confirmed only upon certification of cause of death by the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS). In detail, there were in the North of Italy: 34,368 positive cases in Lombardy, 12,509 in Emilia-Romagna, 15,391 in Piedmont, 9679 in Veneto, 2920 in Trentino Alto Adige, 1320 in Friuli Venezia Giulia, 3437 in Liguria, 354 in the autonomous province of Aosta Valley. In Central Italy: 6133 in Tuscany, 4492 in Lazio, 3273 in Marche, 322 in Umbria. In South Italy: 2943 in Campania, 2933 in Apulia, 2079 in Abruzzo, 821 in Calabria, 229 in Basilicata and 200 in Molise. In Islands: 2320 in Sicily and 804 in Sardinia (Additional file 1: Figure S1).
During the COVID-19 lockdown, the sense of hunger and satiety changed for more than half of the population: 17.8% of responders had less appetite, while 34.4% of responders increased appetite. The increased sense of hunger and the consequent change in eating habits could justify the perception of weight gain observed in 48.6% of the population. In fact, 40.3% thinks they have slightly increased their weight, while 8.3% of the studied population thinks they have highly increased their weight. On the other hand, 3.3% of smokers in this period have quit smoking. It is interesting to notice that the number of those who smoked more than 10 cigarettes per day has decreased by 0.5%. This phenomenon could be explained by the fear induced in smokers of the increased risk of respiratory distress and mortality from COVID-19 . Those who did not use to play sports before the COVID-19 lockdown did not use this as an opportunity to start. However, the most interesting fact is that among those who already took part in sports, training frequency has increased. Those who previously managed to exercise only occasionally, now have more time to do it at home. The percentage of those who train five or more days a week has gone from 6 to 16%, with an average increase of 9.9%. A slight increased physical activity has been reported, especially for bodyweight training (38.3% of respondents).
Parents, guardians, and teachers can help children maintain a healthy weight by helping them develop healthy eating habits and limiting calorie-rich temptations. You also want to help children be physically active, have reduced screen time, and get adequate sleep.
Reducing the availability of high-fat and high-sugar or salty snacks can help your children develop healthy eating habits. Only allow your children to eat these foods rarely, so that they truly will be treats! Here are examples of easy-to-prepare, low-fat and low-sugar snacks that are 100 calories or less:
The best way for you to encourage healthy eating is to eat well yourself. Kids will follow the lead of the adults they see every day. By eating fruits and vegetables and not overindulging in the less nutritious stuff, you'll be sending the right message.
As reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) , the adult disease burden is due to health risk behaviors that start during adolescence (e.g., unhealthy eating practices). For example, most of the United States (US) population does not consume the recommended daily amount of fruit and vegetables, nuts, and seeds. On the other hand, the consumption of added sugars, processed meats, and trans fats is higher than the recommended daily intake . It has been shown that after the transition from adolescence to young adulthood, when independency increases, young adults are continuously challenged to make healthful food choices [2,10]. Along with unhealthy eating behaviors, a new series of weight-related behavioral patterns begins throughout this period, such as excessive alcohol consumption and a low level of physical activity.
Following the literature , a semi-structured question guide was developed to identify the key questions for the research problem (eating habits, physical activity levels, and weight change). Enough flexibility and side-questions allowed for open discussions within the group, to obtain more in-depth information from participants.
As indicated by other authors [2,3,4,35], the most common factors that are reported as barriers to a healthy diet are time constraints, the high price of food items, and their availability, followed by the lack of motivation in food preparation, which is strongly related to intention. Regarding the latter barrier, as reported by Menozzi, Sogari & Mora , intention is the main factor in predicting behavior regarding the consumption of healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Therefore, we believe that nutrition professionals within the university community should design programs and tools that can help students to be more motivated in choosing healthy food. During the focus groups, students realized the strong role of college facilities in influencing their eating habits. In fact, when students start college, they will face a new (food) environment (e.g., all-you-can-eat formula dining), which can have strong impact on their eating habits and intention to perform a healthy behavior. Interventions across campus dining facilities should decrease the potential barriers to healthy food, and increase self-efficacy and behavioral controls, to encourage students to embrace a better diet .
Among the social enablers, students found that having the support of friends to be active in healthy eating was an important stimulus. We also observed that students who have a higher frequency of physical activity believe that social pressure helps them to stay healthy. Parents also have a crucial role, both positive and negative, in shaping the concept of healthy eating and in encouraging children in healthy activities, both related to eating (e.g., food preparation) or more physical (e.g., sport, outdoor activities). We noticed how perceived benefits of healthy eating also influence the intention to consume healthier food , which seems to be more easily achieved if students start planning their meals (self-control technique). Moreover, university characteristics, such as living arrangements (i.e., dormitory, off-campus, with parents) or academic schedules (e.g., classes, exams, etc.), also influence the relationships between individuals and their eating behaviors [18,29,42], and they should be taken into account when designing effective and tailored multilevel intervention programs.
This study highlights the importance of consulting college students when developing healthy eating interventions across the campus for dining services or programs. As suggested by Stok et al., , researchers in the food and nutrition field should not only focus on individual-level factors, but they should also integrate socio-ecological aspects into the analysis. Dining halls and other University facilities should ensure the availability of healthy food choices, as well as promoting physical activity practices regularly. They should also provide food education and food preparation classes, to make students more knowledgeable on how to cook and better plan meals.
Colleges and dining halls on campuses should acknowledge their crucial role in guiding healthy eating behaviors, and be the first subjects to be interested in creating a healthy environment for the students. Unless they start understanding the reasons behind unhealthy eating behaviors of young adults, effective policies and managerial strategies to fight malnutrition (obesity, anorexia, micro-deficiency) cannot be developed.
Eating foods that are good for you and staying physically active may help you reach and maintain a healthy weight and improve how you feel. You also may find that moving more and eating better could help you keep up with the demands of your busy life and be there for the people who depend on you.
As a parent or caregiver, you play a big part in shaping children's eating and drinking habits. When you make it a habit to consume foods and beverages that are low in added sugars, saturated fat, and salt and are high in fiber, the children you care for may learn to like these foods as well. If a child you are caring for does not like a new food right away, don't be upset. Children often need to see a new food many times before they will try it.
Promote good health beyond your family. Other adults may play a role in your child's life, too. You can share ideas about healthy habits with them. For instance, many parents and caregivers work outside the home and need others to help with childcare. Family members, day care providers, babysitters, or friends may shape your child's health habits. Talk to them to make sure they offer healthy meals, snacks, and drinks. Check that caregivers are also providing plenty of active