MONTREAL -- Many Canadians have found refuge in food to counter loneliness during the pandemic, suggests a survey. This could partly explain the weight gain experienced by nearly half of the respondents.

Of the 9,991 respondents to a recent survey conducted by Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, in partnership with Caddle, more than half (57.9 per cent) reported unintentional weight changes since the start of the pandemic.

Of the group, 42.3 per cent admitted to gaining weight. Conversely, 15.6 per cent of respondents observed no significant change when stepping on a scale.

Of those who gained weight, 37.3 per cent gained between 2.72 and 4.5 kilograms.

Sylvain Charlebois, Senior Director of Dalhousie University's Laboratory of Analytical Sciences in Agri-Food, emphasized that weight fluctuations are normal over a lifetime.

"As we age, we tend to gain more weight even if we eat the same amount of food as before, according to recent research that found that lipid turnover in adipose tissue decreases as a person ages," explained Charlebois.

One of the stated purposes of the survey was to poll the population on the factors that most influenced Canadians' eating habits over the past 14 months.

"We learned that 67 per cent of Canadians surveyed admitted that stress was the factor that had the most impact on their personal life over the past 14 months. In times of stress, many find refuge in food," suggests the agri-food expert.

Dr. Stephanie Chevalier, an associate professor at McGill University's School of Human Nutrition, is not surprised by these results and agrees with Charlebois.

"People will handle stress quite differently," said Chevalier. "In the context of confinement, people will prefer food because it is comforting. You're at home, you have access to food at all times, for those who can afford it. It's easy to go and eat little snacks when you work from home, it's easier to snack."

She also suggested taking advantage of "the nice weather" to take time off from your computer every hour, and go for a 10-minute walk, even within the house, if only to climb the stairs in your house or apartment complex.

Charlebois added that as the time spent in transportation or commuting has been reduced to the essentials, people don't tend to move around as much as they used to.

The migration to telecommuting has also translated into a more sedentary lifestyle, not to mention a lack of connections. Gatherings around the coffee machine have been replaced by brief virtual exchanges, if any.

Loneliness has also played a role in Canadians' relationship with food: 48 per cent of respondents admitted that eating makes them feel better when they are lonely, and 61.3 per cent of people said that a snack now and then helps to lift their spirits since the pandemic began.

Charlebois sees from these results and the comments left by respondents that many people were isolated and may have felt depressed.

As the survey shows, not only is the stress factor one of the most important, but the isolation, the separation between people and their friends and colleagues, has been one of the biggest challenges for people.

For example, 67 per cent of Canadians consider separation from loved ones to be the most important personal stressor.

In addition, the loss of normal routines as a result of the pandemic has affected eating habits and mealtime rituals.

Only 8.8 per cent of those surveyed said they were able to manage meals, while 32.5 per cent said they were able to do so most of the time.


The Dalhousie University survey, in partnership with Caddle, was conducted in April 2021 with 9,991 participants. The margin of error is +/- 1.3 per cent, 19 times out of 20. Any discrepancies in totals are due to rounding.

-- this report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2021.