COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease that has caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people in the UK since its outbreak. Governments around the world advised people to stay at home to stop the spread of the disease. As a result, our lifestyles have dramatically changed. This one single health problem, in a very short time, affected not only everyday lives, but also politics, industry, trade and the economy. The COVID-19 crisis has shown in a cruel way how important health is.
COVID-19 and diet
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a big proportion of people working from home or being furloughed, self-isolating, or having reduced or lost incomes. The out of home food sector closed down, so we have stopped eating out with the exception of takeaways. The crisis also resulted in panic buying and stocking up on longer shelf-life products. We are more stressed, snack more and move less. Surveys conducted in England showed significant changes to our relationship with food, our families and the environment.
A poll commissioned by Obesity Action Scotland revealed that already poor diets of people in Scotland have worsened since the coronavirus outbreak. We have started eating more out of boredom, eating more confectionery, cakes and biscuits, savoury snacks and long-shelf-life foods. As undernourished people have weaker immune systems and may be at greater risk of severe illness due to the virus, it is key to help people have healthier diets.
Food system is key
We need a food system that provides food that is nutritious and healthy. The COVID-19 crisis couldn’t have highlighted this need more. The response to COVID-19 must include actions to help people in Scotland eat healthier diets. Healthy diet is key for improving immunity, therefore action to support that would increase resilience to COVID-19 and other communicable diseases. It would also help to address diet-related non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes, that are so prevalent in Scotland.
Poor health, poor future
COVID-19 keeps ruthlessly demonstrating that poor health means poor future. Health needs to be a priority if we want a strong, resilient nation. A food system that promotes health is the key to achieving this.
Glimmer of hope
The Obesity Action Scotland’s poll showed a few favourable changes related to the food culture since the coronavirus outbreak. People in Scotland have reported cooking from scratch more, eating together as a family more and eating less takeaways and ready meals. These may be related to the dramatic changes within the out of home food sector (closed restaurants, cafes, bars etc.) as well as to more time spent at home. This is a good ‘lockdown’ story. We need to embrace these good habits as we go out of lockdown and as the out of home sector starts operating again. Scottish food culture exists, and contrary to some myths and stereotypes, it is something we can be proud of.
Global Nutrition Report (2020) Action on equity to end malnutrition. Bristol, UK: Development Initiatives