New study reveals Aussies are unhealthier since pandemic

Published:16 June 2020

CQUniversity researchers have examined the associations between psychological distress and changes in selected health behaviours since the onset of COVID-19 in Australia.

Australians have not been sleeping as well, exercising less and drinking and smoking more during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s according to a CQUniversity national study that looked at how these changes in health behaviours affect depression, anxiety and stress during the crisis.

Lead researcher, Dr Robert Stanton said the team of CQUniversity researchers examined the associations between psychological distress and changes in selected health behaviours since the onset of COVID-19 in Australia.

“The biggest message from this study is that the reported negative changes in health behaviour, such as reduced physical activity, poorer sleep quality, and increased smoking and alcohol intake, are all associated with increased depression, anxiety and distress,” Dr Stanton explained.

The national online survey of almost 1500 participants found that 48.9% of those surveyed had been less active than before the pandemic, while 40.7% also reported poorer sleep quality.

The survey showed 26.6% of people had increased their alcohol consumption and 6.9% were smoking more.

Women, single people, low income earners and those with a chronic illness were affected more than those in other categories.

Dr Stanton said the study highlighted the need for a variety of health-promotion strategies to be employed to help people adopt or maintain positive health-related behaviours.

“It is our recommendation that effective health promotion strategies, such as targeted social media messaging and balanced media reporting, be used to reduce the acute and chronic increases in psychological distress during these unprecedented times,” said Dr Stanton.

“It will also be necessary to conduct ongoing evaluation of the impact of lockdown rules and social distancing on health behaviours to inform targeted health promotion strategies.”

Dr Stanton’s article based on the study, Depression, Anxiety and Stress during COVID-19: Associations with Changes in Physical Activity, Sleep, Tobacco and Alcohol Use in Australian Adults, was recently published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

The research was co-authored by Dr Quyen To, Dr Saman Khalesi, Dr Susan Williams, Dr Stephanie Alley, Tanya Thwaite, Dr Andrew Fenning and Professor Corneel Vandelanotte.

Dr Stanton said the study arose from other studies being conducted internationally regarding the impact of COVID-19 on health behaviours and mental health.

It was also informed by the plethora of editorials and opinion pieces in the literature speculating on these potential impacts that were not supported by data from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study’s research team comprised National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and National Heart Foundation (NHF) funded research fellows, internationally-recognised experts in health-related behaviour, and leading CQUniversity experts in physical and mental health. These extend across the disciplines of psychology, physical activity, nutrition, cardiovascular pharmacology, mental health, and behaviour change.

The research team will conduct follow up surveys over the coming months to see how the trends seen in the first study change into the future.