Study finds student nutrition and activity levels impacted by COVID-19 pandemic

Published On February 19, 2021 | By Cristina Galle | Food, Life

RICHMOND HILL, Ont. — university students’ activity and nutrition levels have worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study from the University of Saskatchewan suggests.

Researchers from the University of Saskatchewan collected data from 125 of the 158 participants from April to July 2020. Participants were full-time students at the University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina, who had been enrolled before September 2019 and were responsible for preparing their own meals.

The participants completed two online questionnaires through the SurveyMonkey platform. Survey were based on diet, activity, and sedentary levels before and during the pandemic.

The Canadian 24-hour Movement Guidelines for adults aged 18 to 64 recommends 150 minutes per week of physical activity and less than eight-hour of being sedentary per day. The study found that 90 per cent of participants who met the activity guidelines before the pandemic were not meeting them during the pandemic.

Recent Humber graduate student Abhinav Lilothia said he has become more active during the pandemic.

He began studying in Humber’s paralegal program in Jan. 2020 and said he used the gym on campus until it closed due to the pandemic.

Lilothia said he woke up at 5 a.m. each day to see the sunrise before his virtual classes. This routine eventually motivated him to try callisthenics because those exercises don’t require access to a gym or equipment, he said.

“That is my hobby. That is how I love to start my day. Even if I don’t have time at the beginning of the day, I try to fit it in somewhere,” he said.

Lilothia said he has now adapted his routine for indoor exercises during the winter and doesn’t think he will ever go back to using the gym.

The University of Saskatchewan’s study also indicated students’ dietary habits are worse during the pandemic. It found students were not eating as many calories, or enough nutrient-dense foods like grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, nuts, meat, and meat alternatives.

Lori Short-Zamudio, a professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellness at Humber College, said students’ nutrition is impacted by their ability to access food. She said access to food was difficult before the pandemic and is more so during the pandemic.

Short-Zamudio said feelings of guilt are sometimes associated with food choices because there is a perception of what people think they should be eating, which can differ from what they can access or afford.

“I think people feel bad about what they’re eating instead of realizing that they’re taking care of their bodies by feeding their bodies,” she said.

Stress levels also play a factor in nutrition levels, Short-Zamudio said. As classes are virtual this year “students can watch lecture videos independently while also working full time,” she said.

Short-Zamudio said this causes rush eating or meal skipping amid the stress of their school and work responsibilities.

She advised students not to look to others, especially on social media, for dietary advice. Short-Zamudio said people should listen to their own energy needs, “because they will change based on daily activity.

“Knowing that our needs are going to vary from day to day is important. Your body might want more one day and might want less one day, and just letting it do those things I think is really important,” she said.

Short-Zamudio encourages students to reach out for support if they are struggling during this time. Humber students can access free virtual one-on-one nutrition coaching by the college’s nutrition studies students.

Despite virtual learning, “we still have this great Humber community that can support you in everything that is going on, and it’s ok to ask for help,” she said.

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