Dietary changes and anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic: Differences between the sexes

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The SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic has been associated with both increased anxiety, deterioration in diet and weight gain. These associations may differ by sex. The present report examines differences by sex in diet quality in order to determine whether associations between diet and psychological stress during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic differed by sex. This online study is available internationally in seven languages. The Mediterranean Diet Score was used to measure diet quality, while the General Anxiety Disorder 7-point scale (GAD-7) was used to measure anxiety. Findings were compared by self-reported sex (male vs. female). A total of 3797 respondents provided informed consent and met eligibility criteria, of whom 526 women were omitted due to being pregnant or six months or less post-partum, or due to reproductive status not being reported. Thus, 3271 individuals are included in the present report, of whom 71.2% were women. The median age of women was 30 (interquartile range (IQR) = 16) years vs. 31 (IQR = 19) years, p = 0.079. The median diet quality score was 9 (IQ = 3) in both women and men (p = 0.75). Despite the overall similarity in diet score, several components of the score differed significantly by sex. Women reported consuming significantly more olive oil, daily servings of vegetables, and weekly servings of sweet baked goods. Men reported consuming significantly more sweetened/carbonated drinks, red meat, alcohol, legumes, and hummus/tahini. Women reported a GAD-7 score of 6 (IQR = 8), while men reported 3 (6), p < 0.001. An inverse association was detected between the Mediterranean diet score and the GAD-7 score in both women (rho = −0.166, p < 0.001) and men (rho = −0.154, p < 0.001), and the correlation coefficients did not differ by sex (p = 0.76). Mediterranean diet score and age both reduced the odds of elevated anxiety (GAD-7 ≥ 10), while female sex, deterioration of diet quality during the outbreak, unemployment, and completing the survey in English increased the odds of this outcome. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, overall diet quality did not differ by sex; however, some differences by sex in components of the total score were detected. Moderate to severe anxiety was positively associated with female sex and poorer diet quality even after controlling for age, employment status, and the language in which the survey was performed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4193
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Anxiety
  • COVID-19
  • Dietary patterns
  • Mediterranean Diet
  • Sex


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