Eating habits, sedentary lifestyle... students may be some of the hardest hit during the pandemic

Students are more sedentary, eating less healthily, and consuming more alcohol since the beginning of the pandemic.

Students, who are not necessarily known for having a healthy routine at the best of times, may be particularly affected by the measures taken to curb the global pandemic. Not only have lockdowns aggravated their sedentary lifestyle and alcohol consumption, but it also likely had an impact on their eating habits, reveals a study conducted by Canadian researchers.

Scientists at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada have been studying the impact of covid-19, and more specifically lockdown measures designed to reduce its propagation, on students' health practices. The four-month study involved 125 students at the Universities of Saskatchewan and Regina who were considered vulnerable because they lived alone, with a roommate, or with a partner, and were responsible for buying and preparing their own meals. They were subjected to an online questionnaire, administered at the time of the introduction of restrictions to limit the spread of the virus, on their food consumption and physical activity before and during the pandemic.

"With pre-pandemic research already showing university students to be a vulnerable group for inadequate diet and physical activity, the measures imposed to curb the COVID pandemic presented a unique opportunity to examine further impact on their lives," explains Gordon Zello, nutrition professor and lead author of the study.

Published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism , this work initially revealed that students were eating less -- and less well -- on a daily basis during the pandemic. In fact, they consumed 20% less meat, 44% less dairy products, and up to 45% less vegetables. While lockdown meant that they also drank less tea and coffee, their alcohol consumption increased in particular.

Students are less active

The lack of physical activity has also been felt since the beginning of the global crisis. The study shows that 16% of participants were previously meeting Canadian health guidelines for at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week, a figure that dropped to 9.6% during the pandemic. And unsurprisingly the sedentary habits of study participants soared.

Researchers attribute these behavioral changes to the psychological distress associated with the global pandemic, the limited opening hours of food stores and restaurants, and the closure of gyms and other recreational facilities. The simple fact of switching to doing distance learning for one's courses was also detrimental, as students no longer even walked to university.

"Our findings are important because university students, especially those most vulnerable for poor nutrition and sedentary behavior, should be targeted for interventions aimed at maintaining and improving physical activity and dietary practices during this pandemic and beyond," noted Gordon Zello. Something that should not be overlooked in order to limit the fallout of such an event on their health in the long term.