Impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on psycological health and nutritional habits in Italy: results from the #PRESTOinsieme study group.

Containment measures (eg, social distancing and a national lockdown) are crucial public health strategies in the fight against COVID-19.1 Even though such actions are essential to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, it is worth noting that they might adversely affect physical and psychological health and seem to be associated with an increased risk of domestic accidents.4

Mental health changes during the lockdown have been detected by studies conducted in the USA and Italy, showing an increased prevalence/severity of anxiety and depressive symptoms together with an impairment of psychological functions involving memory and attention Furthermore, changes in lifestyle habits in response to COVID-19 and the lockdown have been reported. Italian studies have found a decrease in physical activity frequency, an impairment of sleep habits and unhealthy eating habits. It appears to be of extreme importance to take appropriate public health actions to mitigate the adverse effects of lockdowns10 and to identify groups more vulnerable to the potential side effects of lockdowns to develop public health actions explicitly meant for these vulnerable populations.

Italy is the first European country where the COVID-19 outbreak occurred, causing an excess of mortality with severe overloads for the healthcare system. The first containment measures were introduced on 23 February 2020 in the two Italian regions where the COVID-19 first spread (Veneto and Lombardia). However, over a short time, the disease also spread to other Italian regions, so the Italian government introduced new containment measures at the national level on 11 March 2020. Finally, on 22 March 2020, a nationwide full lockdown was implemented. Data on the Italian population during the lockdown show impaired emotional well-being and unhealthy lifestyle changes.

The present work aims to present the results of the ‘PRESTOinsieme’ (imPact of quaRantine mEasures againST COVID-19, which is known as ‘we will be together soon’ in English) project, a web-based survey conducted in Italy. The study aims to describe changes in lifestyle habits and the prevalence of psychological discomfort symptoms in the Italian population during the COVID-19 lockdown. The reason for analysing and presenting data on both psychological well-being and lifestyle habits is the strict relationship documented between these two dimensions. An example of such a relationship is represented by emotional eating. Individuals experiencing anxiety and depressive symptoms are prone to emotional eating habits, that is, eating to relieve stress instead of physical hunger, and this phenomenon was reported during the lockdown.

Several studies have been conducted so far with the aim of describing the relationship between the COVID-19 lockdown and psychological well-being in China, European countries and the USA. The value added by the present study refers to the fact that it was conducted in Italy, one of the countries most severely affected by the pandemic, at the very beginning of the first COVID-19 lockdown, when only little information was available about the prevention and treatment of the infection and the only previous experience in the management of the outbreak was that of the city of Wuhan, in China.

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