Covid-19 turned into a global pandemic fast and might be here to stay for the foreseeable future. There are many links between food systems and Covid-19, and within this broader context there seems to be a strong relation between diet, nutrition and the virus. On the one hand, obesity and diet-related disease appear to significantly increase the risks of Covid-19. At the same time, measures implemented because of the pandemic, such as mandatory lockdowns, are impacting people’s everyday behaviour, including diet and physical activity. That is why JPI HDHL organised an online workshop on June 17 2020, titled ‘Food, nutrition, physical activity and Covid-19: defining what we know and still need to know in the research area of JPI HDHL’. We were joined by around 150 participants from all over Europe during the course of the workshop.
The workshop kicked off with two keynote talks, a presentation on the clinical aspects of Covid-19 and nutrition by dr. Christophe Matthys from the KU Leuven and a presentation on Covid-19 and dietary and physical activity behaviour by prof. Emely de Vet from Wageningen University. These set the scene for what is currently known and being discovered on these topics, and suggested some first directions for further investigation. Next was an interactive panel discussion with representatives from various relevant JPI HDHL funded projects and the JPI HDHL Stakeholder and Scientific Advisory Boards, as well as the audience.
Elderly and people with co-morbidities such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes or obesity are particularly vulnerable for a COVID-19 infection. Inflammation is likely a common underlying process. The workshop showed that nutrition can play an important role in the rehabilitation after an infection, for example by ensuring sufficient protein intake. Impaired nutritional and metabolic status also seem to be an important risk factor for the disease. A healthy diet, and a healthy lifestyle are likely to reduce the vulnerability, but there is now evidence from several countries that during the confinement dietary and physical activity habits have sometimes changed for the worse. Social deprivation and further economic and food insecurity are expected to enhance the negative trends. This means that improving our knowledge on nutrition and dietary behaviour is now even more important than ever. Several knowledge gaps were identified which would need urgent attention to tackle this new situation.
A more extensive report of the workshop, including some ideas for follow-up actions, will be published in the upcoming weeks. A recording of the workshop can be viewed on our YouTube channel. Please note that around 10 minutes are missing from the start of the panel discussion, due to a technical issue.