Researchers at Dalhousie University are starting a study on the nutritional impacts of how people eat in Atlantic Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study is being led by Catherine Mah of the school of health administration, who is the Canada Research Chair in healthy population.
“I think the most important thing that we're approaching in this research is that nutrition is already a concern in the Atlantic provinces. (They) have one the of the highest levels of diet-related risk in Canada,” Mah said.
She said the region already has economic factors impacting food access and nutrition such as poverty, child poverty and household food insecurity.
“The other key piece of it is geography. We have one of the highest proportions of rural residents, and looking at all four Atlantic provinces we're talking about rural and remote communities.”
She said the two biggest effects of public health restrictions because of the pandemic are on physical movement and economics.
“The economics and geography work together,” Mah said. “If you don't have a dollar in your pocket, you could live right on top of the best grocery store in the world and you won't be able to access it.”
On the other hand, she said, someone could live in a remote community and have money, “but if you don't have good infrastructure and transportation and geographic access, or if you're restricted because of other obvious reasons during a pandemic like you're isolated or you're residing in an institutional setting, you won't be able to access food.”
The study, called CELLAR for COVID-related Eating Limitations and Latent dietary effects in the Atlantic Region, will follow about 1,000 people across the region for 12 weeks.
Researchers started calling households Monday to get participants for the study. The call will show up with a 902 area code on caller ID.
There will be a phone survey and online diet survey, and over the course of the12 weeks participants will be asked to save all food and grocery receipts.
“We need a representative proportion of rural residents and urban residents,” Mah said.
“We know very well from past research in the Atlantic that one in five households with children are food insecure, without adequate economic access to food,” she said. “That's a huge proportion of of the population.”
She said she expects that proportion could be higher in the study because of COVID-19.
The hope is that the results of the study will provide data for social and economic policy changes.
“This is specifically intended to mitigate some of those higher-risk populations as well as deal with some of the long-term response to the pandemic in terms of the recovery,” she said.
She said poor diet and nutrition have short- and long-term effects on health, and by looking in-depth at nutrition researchers hope to be able to see how social policy can be tweaked or altered to reduce the risks for Atlantic Canadians.
More information on the study can be found on the web at cellarstudy.ca