Background:``Lockdowns"to control the spread of COVID-19 in the UK have affected many aspects of life, with concerns that they may have adversely affected diets . We aimed to examine (i) the effect of living in lockdown on fruit and vegetable consumption; (ii) whether any population subgroup was particularly adversely affected; (iii) the barriers and facilitators to a healthy diet in lockdown; and (iv) the effect of lockdown on secondary outcomes such as weight and mental wellbeing .
Methods: We conducted a mixed-method longitudinal study, involving an online survey of 1003 adults in the West Midlands, UK, 494 of whom were surveyed at two different points in time . Our first time point (T0: May 2020) was during stringent COVID-19 lockdown and the second (T1: September 2020) during a period of more relaxed restrictions . The survey included detailed quantitative questions about fruit and vegetable consumption; questions on physical activity, socio-demographic characteristics, BMI and wellbeing; and qualitative data collection about the reasons behind reported changes .
Results: We find no evidence for respondents decreasing their fruit and vegetable consumption during lockdown compared to afterwards . If anything, consumption of fruit and vegetables increased by about half a portion daily among women, particularly among those who normally have a long commute . These findings combined with a significant increase in physical activity, suggest that behaviours were healthier during lockdown, consistent with higher self-reported health compared with afterwards . However, there was a marked deterioration in wellbeing during lockdown, and on average participants self-reported being heavier during this period as well . Our qualitative data suggested that an abundance of resources supported higher fruit and vegetable consumption during lockdown, for instance, participants had more time, while access issues were one barrier to consumption .
Conclusions: Our results are reassuring for those concerned that lockdowns may have adversely affect diets . They may point to the impact of commuting on diet, particularly for women, and intervening to reduce commuting times may be one way to improve population diets . Our study adds longitudinal evidence to a growing body of literature on the adverse effect of lockdown on mental health.