The data gathered in this study can be useful in the design of public health actions, programmes and policies aimed at this group. (Photo: Andres Ayrton, Pexels)
Sònia Armengou Casanovas
This is the main finding of a study by the University of Vic - Central University of Catalonia and Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, which warns of increased inequalities amongst this group, already vulnerable before lockdown
The authors stress the need for public policies to prevent a continued increase in nutritional and health-related inequalities
The findings have been published in the journal 'Nutrients'
Eating habits amongst the young changed during the lockdown imposed due to COVID-19 and worsened in the case of those belonging to socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. These are the chief findings of an open access study published in specialist journal Nutrients, headed by researchers Alícia Aguilar Martínez, of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, and Marina Bosque Prous, of the UOC and UManresa, as part of the DESKcohort project of the interuniversity Epidemiology and Public Health research group GRESP.
The study, of 303 Catalan young people aged between 12 and 18, sought to establish how this age group's diet had changed from March to May 2020, in terms of both eating behaviours and the products consumed. The goal was to collect data to ascertain whether the changes were different depending upon the quality of their diet prior to the pandemic and their socioeconomic position.
For Aguilar Martínez, expert in adolescent nutritional health, "understanding how lockdown affected the quality of the diet of young people helps us determine which factors impact adolescents' food-related decisions and behaviours".
Differences due to socioeconomic position
The study shows how young people in more socioeconomically disadvantaged positions cut back on their consumption of cereals and vegetables and increased their intake of convenience foods. The figures show that the risk of a worsening in the diet of this group is 21% greater for adolescents from other socioeconomic realities. Bosque Prous notes how the figures point to "an increase in inequalities amongst a group already vulnerable before lockdown".
Given the findings, continues this expert in public health, "the public administrations would do well to foster actions and policies that help prevent situations such as these or be better prepared for any future lockdowns". The data gathered in this study, said the researchers, "can be useful in the design of public health actions, programmes and policies aimed at this group".
With regard to the general changes noted, the study finds that 40% of young people have increased their consumption of fruit and 21.5% say that they have eaten a more varied diet. 39.3% have cut their consumption of sweets and pastries, 49.2% that of convenience foods and 49.8% that of sugary soft drinks. On the other hand, 56% acknowledge having snacked between meals and having eaten those meals on a more irregular basis. Nevertheless, the researchers stress that "there is a need to analyse whether these changes, which have arisen over a short period of time, will remain in place in the long term."
Aguilar issues a warning, noting that adolescence is a critical period in the establishment and consolidation of lifestyles that affect both development and the prevention of diseases in adulthood. This is why, she said, there is a need to "focus on the characteristics of more vulnerable groups when it comes to developing public policies and making recommendations on a healthy diet. They must be adapted to those at most risk and prevent any continued increase in nutritional and health inequalities”, she advocated.
The DESKcohort project is an initiative headed by the University of Vic – Central University of Catalonia and by the UVIC-UCC/UOC Epidemiology and Public Health interuniversity research group, with the support of the Subdirectorate-General for Drug Addiction of the Catalan Public Health Agency and of the Catalan Ministry of Education.
This study helps in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 3, Good Health and Well-Being, and 10, Reduced Inequalities.
Alicia Aguilar-Martínez, Marina Bosque-Prous, Helena González-Casals, Ester Colillas-Malet, Susanna Puigcorbé, Laura Esquius and Albert Espelt. Social Inequalities in Changes in Diet in Adolescents during Confinement Due to COVID-19 in Spain: The DESKcohort Project. Nutrients 13(5), 1577 (2021) doi: https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13051577
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Alicia Aguilar Martínez
Lecturer in the Health Sciences Department
Director of the Master's Degree in Nutrition and Health
Deputy Dean of Teaching in the Faculty of Health Sciences
Expert in: Educational innovation in e-health; food studies from a health perspective; biotechnology; nutritional education.
Knowledge area: Nutrition.