The introduction of the national lockdown on 19 March 2020 greatly affected the previous way of life in the Republic of Croatia. Chronic non-communicable diseases, as well as increased body mass index, are associated with more severe forms of the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In addition to physical activity, the importance of nutrition in maintaining overall health is emphasized, as well as the necessary role in the optimal functioning of the immune system.
According to the American media company US News & World Report, the Mediterranean diet has been known as the best way to eat for 4 years in a row. It is also recommended as an optimal diet during a coronavirus pandemic by the world and European public health organizations.
To what extent did the spring lockdown in 2020 affect the eating habits of the inhabitants of the Republic of Croatia? What was the alignment of the diet with the Mediterranean diet before and during the lockdown? Did the residents have problems with the availability of certain foods? Is there a difference in the quality of nutrition between people of adequate body weight and overweight people? Has the increased time spent at home also brought some good changes in life habits? The answers to all these questions were presented publicly for the first time at the Congress “Nutrition and Dietetics 2021”, which was held virtually from 10 to 12 March 2021.
Working group of the Faculty of Food Technology and Biotechnology, University of Zagreb, consisting of Danijela Pfeifer, a graduate student of nutrition, Josip Rešetar, master of nutrition, prof. dr. sc. Jasenka Gajdoš Kljusurić, Ph.D. dr. sc. Ines Panjkota Krbavcic, prof. dr. sc. Darija Vranešić Bender and prof. dr. sc. Zvonimir Šatalić, provide answers to these questions. The research was conducted as part of an international project, COVIDiet, aimed at studying eating habits during the coronavirus pandemic, in which as many as 16 European countries participated.
The survey of the Croatian population included 4281 adult respondents, who answered the online questionnaire in the period from April 7 to May 4, 2020. The questionnaire was mostly filled in by women (81%), aged 20-50 years (82%), high level of education (55%), and adequate body weight (64%).
Although most respondents maintained the same eating habits during the spring lockdown as before, an increase in consumption of fruits and vegetables as well as homemade desserts was noted. Red meat, sweetened and carbonated beverages, and alcoholic beverages were consumed in smaller quantities. Both before and during the lockdown, the examined population had moderate compliance with the Mediterranean diet, but a positive shift was noted during the lockdown. During the lockdown, there was an increase in compliance with the Mediterranean diet by 6% compared to the period before the lockdown.
Also, although access to stores was difficult during the lockdown, 80% of respondents said they had no problems with food availability during the national lockdown. Most respondents had problems finding home-grown fruits and vegetables, and fish and fish products, as these foods are commonly bought at markets that were closed during a lockdown.
Furthermore, there was a difference in the quality of nutrition between overweight people and those of adequate body weight. Respondents of adequate body weight had a better quality of diet during lockdown compared to overweight subjects. Moreover, subjects of adequate body weight were more likely to increase their physical activity during a lockdown. Analysis of the results of the questionnaire showed that overweight subjects had a greater chance of gaining weight during the lockdown.
But not everything is so dark! With an increase in compliance with the Mediterranean diet during a lockdown, just over 50% of respondents took advantage of a longer stay at home to increase the frequency of cooking. Respondents who cooked more consumed more vegetables, legumes, and fish, and seafood than respondents who cooked equally or less. Increased consumption of these foods is certainly a positive change in eating habits. The question is whether the increased frequency of cooking and increased consumption of the aforementioned foods will be maintained even after the lockdown?
Maintaining the positive changes observed by the research of students and teachers of the Faculty of Food Technology and Biotechnology, University of Zagreb, would certainly result in improved primary nutritional and general health status and better immune system in the fight against this viral pandemic.
Translated by: Ines Jurak