Covid-19 anxiety and stress causing body image issues

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  • Researchers found that mental health issues linked to the coronavirus pandemic have a significant effect on body confidence. 
  • The lead author of the research is concerned the negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic could trigger a wave of eating disorders. 
  • According to a South African survey, half of those surveyed ended up gaining weight despite the intentions of wanting to lose it at the beginning of lockdown. 

Researchers from Anglia Ruskin University discovered that mental health issues directly linked to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown were having a significant effect on body confidence.

The team studied more than 500 adults in the U.K., with an average age of 34, and said women had a "greater desire for thinness", and suffered from increased body dissatisfaction.

Male participants were found to want more muscles and had an increase in body fat dissatisfaction.

READ MORE: How badly is social media affecting women's confidence? Local content creator Oyama Botha gets real

The lead author shared his concerns that the negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic could trigger a wave of "very serious" eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia.

He said that anxiety and stress caused by Covid-19 had eradicated the coping mechanisms people use to control negative thoughts, and along with decreased physical activity during lockdown, has put many people at risk of mental health issues.

In South Africa, Game - which recently expanded its range of health and wellness products - conducted an online survey to find out just how much the lockdown impacted South Africans’ waistlines and what their behaviour towards looking after themselves was during the national lockdown.

READ MORE: 'I drank several bottles of wine a week but the alcohol ban forced me to question my habit' 

Around 1 200 participants from across South Africa were surveyed, of which 79.5 percent were female and 20.5 percent male, ranging in age from 18-50 and older - the majority coming from Gauteng, Western Cape and KZN. 

Among topline results, the survey found that encouragingly many people were determined to use lockdown as a time to take back control and reset their lives. Some (59 percent) even saw it as an opportunity to learn something new, start a business or a side hustle or, like a third of the sample (32 percent), even lose weight. 

Despite their good intentions, the reality of lockdown was that a staggering half of the total sample ended up gaining weight despite the intentions of wanting to lose it, and only 17 percent achieved this goal. 

The majority of those who gained weight, ended up gaining a substantial amount with 62 percent gaining between 3 – 6 kilograms. One respondent even said they gained a whopping 18 kilograms. This while 61 percent of those who intended to lose weight going into lockdown, ended up gaining weight instead.  

In terms of diets and eating, 39 percent claimed to eat the same as before lockdown, and unsurprisingly there, is a strong link between eating habits and weight loss and gain. 

READ MORE: #LockdownDiaries: 4 South African women take us through their emotions during lockdown

More than have (59 percent) admitted to binge-watching their favourite series through lockdown while 46 percent used it as a way to achieve goals by studying or starting a business. 

Also, 53 percent ended up not exercising at all during lockdown, however, 47 percent found some way to do so, such as turning to an online class. 

While the gyms were closed, with money being tight too, the trend of exercising at home has become far more accessible for many people and lockdown has made that apparent.   

Sources: Cover Media, Atmosphere Communications

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