The quality of life of Brazilians decreased in the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the illness and grief itself, social isolation measures made people spend more time in front of screens. At the same time, there were also changes for the worse in eating habits and physical activity. This is shown by a study carried out by scientists from four Brazilian universities.
Through more than 1,300 online questionnaires carried out between August and September 2020, the researchers detected an increase of 3.5 hours in the screen time of Brazilians. The median of the questionnaires jumped from 6.5 to 10 hours in front of cell phones, computers, TVs and other electronic devices, an increase of 54%.
Most of the sample was working and/or studying from home full or part time, which influenced the result. On the other hand, some groups showed an inverse tendency to longer periods in front of displays: older people, who continued to work or study in person, who had an increase in work and household chores, or who began to practice more physical exercise.
More screen time makes feeding worse
The work argues that excessive time using screens, despite alleviating moments of loneliness in the midst of isolation, negatively interferes with food choices. This behavior is linked to a high consumption of ultra-processed foods and fried foods.
Other findings of the study also reinforce that the quality of meals worsened: the consumption of fruits and vegetables dropped, while breads and sweets, instant foods and fast food were more present on the menu.
Another factor that seems to have an impact on diet is sleep time. The number of hours slept increased, most likely because it was no longer necessary to commute to work. This, however, led to a decrease in the number of people eating breakfast and having snacks before lunch and an increase in those eating snacks in the evening.
The study also detected a decrease in the time and frequency of physical activities, an increase in the frequency of consumption of alcoholic beverages (but with lower doses) and cigarettes (but without an increase in the amount per day).
Other studies show similar results
The researchers themselves recognize in the text that their study has limitations. It was done from an online questionnaire answered without assistance, which can lead to errors in filling it out. Furthermore, this method excludes those who do not have access to the internet.
Therefore, it does not reflect exactly the Brazilian population — 80% of the respondents were women, for example, which is a big distortion, and the percentage of people who did not have a chance to work from home must be much higher than the 11% found among those who submitted responses.
Even so, the study found results similar to those from other countries, such as Canada and Iran. A broader survey (with 40,000 participants) and with a more faithful stratification of the Brazilian population also found an increase in sedentary lifestyle linked to greater exposure to screens and decrease in food quality, with lower consumption of fruits and vegetables.
And other research goes along the same lines and shows an overall decline in quality of life: a global survey by Microsoft in 2020 also identified increased stress and work demand, leading to a greater sense of burnout.
The work was carried out by researchers from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), the Federal University of Viçosa (UFV), the Federal University of Lavras (UFLA) and the Federal University of Ouro Preto (Ufop). The study yielded articles in journals Public Health Nutrition e Frontiers in Nutrition.
With information: Agência Brasil, Public Health Nutrition