COVID-19 is directly impacting diets and behaviours, not least due to people's heightened concern about ensuring they have a fighting fit immune system.
In order to assess exactly how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting dietary and lifestyle-related behaviours at the global level, a team of researchers from Taiwan used Google Trends - the most popular tool to gather information on web-based behaviours - to analyse how the pandemic is influencing people's online searches.
The team gathered worldwide relative search volumes (RSVs) between 1 June 2019 and 27 April 2020, selecting search terms “coronavirus”, “Covid-19”, “Covid 19”, “Covid”, and “SARS-CoV2”, and multiple keywords in four categories: food security, dietary behaviours, immune-related nutrients/herbs, and outdoor/indoor lifestyles and behaviours.
In their resulting report, published in the journal Nutrients, they provide a global network correlations graph showing the link between daily conformed COVID-19 cases and diet-related lifestyle behaviour search terms.
The graph reveals a strong correlation between COVID-19 cases and searches for specific active ingredients including: Vitamin E, C, D, A, B, turmeric, zinc, ginger, selenium, curcumin, coffee, and garlic. It also reveals a link between COVID-19 cases and searches for the terms 'weight loss', 'cycling' , and 'exercise'.
Perhaps surprisingly, a negative link is revealed between COVID-19 cases and 'omega-3'.
The reported data also reveals a marked rise in searches involving the word 'immunity' plus vitamins, particularly vitamin C and to a lesser extent, herbs and turmeric.
Breaking down the data into global regions, the research reveals internet users in European countries were more likely to search for “vitamin D and coronavirus”, while those in Asian, Middle Eastern, and African countries were more likely to search “vitamin C and coronavirus”, and those in Central/South American and Caribbean countries more commonly searched for “zinc and coronavirus”.
In addition, Caribbean and African countries tended to search for “garlic and coronavirus” or “turmeric and coronavirus” or “herb”.
The strong interest in Vitamin D in Europe is likely to have continued to increase since the time of data collection due to a huge wealth of news reports around the link between the vitamin and COVID-19 severity.
The authors conclude: "...Our study showed profound effects of COVID-19 on sedentary indoor behaviors and global concerns with immune-boosting nutrients/herbs, and food security. Swift action is needed to strengthen the resilience of food systems, especially targeting those most vulnerable groups and food-insecure regions."
They note that limitations of this study include the use of English keywords and Google as the search engine, which reducing their ability to capture true global interests. They add: "The current study was also limited by its retrospective nature, and additional surveillance is needed to confirm changes in behaviours as well as health outcomes related to these changes during the COVID-19 pandemic."
Chang. J-S., et al
"Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Food Security and Diet-Related Lifestyle Behaviors: An Analytical Study of Google Trends-Based Query Volumes"