This is according to a first-of-its-kind study conducted by researchers from top China universities Tsinghua University, Peking University, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Findings also showed that consumers residing in regions with fewer than 500 COVID-19 cases tended to have a more varied dietary intake.
A total of 1,938 participants from 31 Chinese provinces and cities took part in the online survey in March.
They were required to answer a questionnaire which assesses their intake of food from 12 different categories in the last 24 hours.
The 12 categories include cereals, vegetables, fruits, eggs, fish and seafood, meat. A score of ‘1’ is recorded for consuming a certain food and ‘0’ for non-consumption.
A higher score suggests a more varied dietary intake. The total score is 12.
Findings showed that the average score is 9.7, with a standard deviation of plus or minus 2.1.
Interestingly, people living in places where lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases were above 500 or living in Hubei province had a low score.
Comparing the odds ratio (OR), the researchers found that the odds of respondents with a higher score was 1 in areas with less than 500 COVID-19 cases and 0.84 in places with more than 500 COVID-19 cases.
In Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak, the OR was even lower at 0.58.
A further breakdown of the data showed that 37.7% of the respondents consumed nutrition supplements such as vitamin C, probiotics and TCM to cope with COVID-19.
Of which, 18.2% had taken vitamin C, 11.7% took probiotics, 8% took other dietary supplements, and 9.6% had consumed TCM.
“This study revealed an overall good dietary diversity among the studied Chinese residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“After adjusting for age, family income, and geographic regions, people living in places where lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases were above 500 or living in Hubei province had a low household dietary diversity score (HDDS),” the researchers concluded.
Alcohol and vinegar…
Alcoholic beverages and vinegar were identified as other products that people consumed to cope with COVID-19.
There were 10.6% and 16% of the respondents who had intentionally consumed alcoholic beverages and vinegar respectively for this purpose.
The researchers noted that the behaviour was likely caused by “rising concerns in the stressful time of COVID-19 pandemic”.
Another reason could be because these people have wrongly believed in reports on how drinking alcohol or vinegar could lower the risk of viral infection.
“Intriguingly, we observed a HDDS among participants with those behaviours. We infer that it may be because the people who have these behaviours may also pay more attention to diet,” the researchers said.
One limitation of the study is that most of the respondents were young and highly educated.
The researchers said that the elderly and those with lower socio-economic status could not be easily reached in the study, yet, they were also the more vulnerable groups during the pandemic.
As such, they recommended future studies to focus on these populations.
They also suggested authorities to make evidence based dietary recommendations and health education to encourage a more balanced and diversified diet, especially in areas severely impacted by COVID-19 and the lockdown policy.
Dietary Diversity among Chinese Residents during the COVID-19 Outbreak and Its Associated Factors
Authors: Ai Zhao, et al