New HEAL Study: Dietary Changes of Youth during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Systematic Review

A team of researchers led by Nicolas Woods, Jamie Seabrook, Holly Schaafsma, Shauna Burke, Trish Tucker, and Jason Gilliland recently published an article entitled: “Dietary Changes of Youth during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Systematic Review.”

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has taken the lives of millions and disrupted countless more worldwide. Simply living through the pandemic has had drastic effects on the health of citizens. Diet, an important aspect of health, has been uniquely affected by the pandemic, although these changes have not been sufficiently studied among youth.

The objective of this systematic review was to investigate dietary changes of youth during COVID-19.

A pre-specified literature review was conducted using MEDLINE, EMBASE, Scopus, and CINAHL to identify studies from January 2020 to May 2023 that assessed dietary changes among youth aged ≤20 y compared with before the pandemic. Only quantitative observational studies that were published in English were included. Two authors completed all screening/study selection independently, with disagreements being resolved via discussion. Data extraction was completed by 1 author. Dietary changes were categorized into food groups and habits for analysis purposes.

In total, 67 studies met inclusion criteria. Most studies used recall to assess changes (48/67; 71%). Most studies found an increase in fruits and vegetables (24/46; 52.2%), grain products (6/11; 54.5%), meat, poultry, and eggs (4/8, 50%), diet quality indices and/or overall dietary assessments (7/13, 53.9%), and the frequency of snacking (9/12; 75.0%), whereas generally finding a decrease in ultraprocessed foods (32/53; 60.4%), compared with before the COVID-19 pandemic. Mixed findings or primarily no changes were found for fish and aquatic products, legumes, beans, seeds and nuts, milk and milk products, breakfast consumption, and nutrient intake.

Mostly favorable dietary changes appear to have occurred among youth during COVID-19, although there were several mixed findings and unclear takeaways among the foods and habits under study. The heterogeneity of defining food groups was a noted limitation in the current review.

Citation: Nicolas Woods, Jamie Seabrook, Holly Schaafsma, Shauna Burke, Trish Tucker, and Jason Gilliland. “Dietary Changes of Youth during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Systematic Review.”The Journal of Nutrition; 2024. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tjnut.2024.02.022

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