Less Exercise, Binge Eating, Hurt Mental Health During UK Lockdown

July 30, 2020 Updated: July 30, 2020

Poor eating habits, the invariability of daily life, and a lack of exercise likely contributed to a decline in people’s mental health during the UK’s lockdown period, the preliminary results of a University of Oxford study suggest.

Participants in an online survey of over 800 people aged 18 to 81 reported an increase in binge eating, a poorer diet and quality of sleep, less physical activity, and a rise in anxiety and sadness, particularly among young people, after the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus lockdown measures began.

“COVID-19 lockdown has resulted in increased levels of anxiety, poor sleep, persistent sadness, binge eating, suicidal thoughts, snacking, consumption of alcohol, and reduced levels of physical activity,” study co-leader Stanley Ulijaszek, a professor of human ecology and director of the University of Oxford’s Unit of Biocultural Variation and Obesity (UBVO), said in a statement.

“These changes have potential long-term consequences for obesity rates and chronic disease more broadly.”

File photograph of a bag of potato chips. Snacking increased during lockdown in the UK, according to a University of Oxford survey. (Miroslavik/Pixabay.com)

Though ready-meal consumption was down and fresh fruit and vegetable consumption up, drinking alcohol and eating processed snacks was also up during the period.

“Feeling demotivated to take care of my health as much. Relying more on comfort food (including alcohol) to cope,” said one 30-year-old female respondent, according to the report published on July 20 (pdf).

Suicidal thoughts among those surveyed more than doubled in lockdown (4 percent to 11 percent of participants), with one survey respondent saying she had contemplated suicide at least twice a week and sometimes every day.

Some reported the stress of work and childcare or lack of structure to their days as being contributors to negative mental health.

About a third of respondents reported being more active during lockdown, but 46 percent said they did less exercise. One respondent cited the reduced physical activity as an aggravating factor in deteriorating mental health and described a repeating anxiety, comfort eating, weight gain, depression, comfort eating, cycle.

“Even though I’m doing less exercise I find it more tiring. Lacking structure in my day makes everything blend into one,” said one 27-year-old male respondent.

The survey was carried out between June 19 and July 6 and is open until July 31 for further participants.

The UBVO report comes just a week before Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s launch of measures to tackle the country’s “obesity time bomb.”

A new a 2-billion-pound ($2.5-billion) government “Gear Change” campaign also promises to promote increased walking and cycling across the whole country as the nation eases out of lockdown.