The Perceived Impact of COVID-19 on Comfort Food Consumption over Time: The Mediational Role of Emotional Distress

Nutrients. 2021 Jun 2;13(6):1910. doi: 10.3390/nu13061910.


The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on populations at an economic, health, and on an interpersonal level, it is still unclear how it has affected health-risk behaviors, such as comfort food consumption over time. This study longitudinally examines the effect of the perceived impact of COVID-19 on comfort food consumption and whether this effect is mediated by emotional distress. A convenience sample of 1048 students and university staff (academic and non-academic) from two universities completed monthly online surveys during the COVID-19 pandemic across six waves (W; W1 to W6). Participants reported their perceived impact of COVID-19 (economic, interpersonal, and health), comfort food consumption, and emotional distress (DASS-21). Using structural equation models, we found an indirect longitudinal effect of the perceived impact of COVID-19 (W1) on comfort food consumption (W3 to W6) through increased emotional distress (W2). The perceived negative impact of COVID-19 on comfort food consumption was fully mediated by the emotional distress during the first waves (W3 and W4), ending in a partial mediation in the last waves (W5 and W6). These findings contribute to disentangling the mechanisms by which the perceived impact of COVID-19 affects comfort food consumption over time, and highlight the role of emotional distress. Future interventions should address comfort food consumption by focusing on handling emotional distress during a crisis.

Keywords: COVID-19 pandemic; emotional eating; longitudinal; psychological distress; structural equation modeling.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • COVID-19 / psychology*
  • Diet / psychology*
  • Emotions*
  • Faculty
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics*
  • Perception
  • Psychological Distress*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Stress, Psychological / diet therapy
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology*
  • Students
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Universities
  • Young Adult