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CSIRO study reveals COVID-19's impact on weight and emotional wellbeing

"We identified a need for the tools to boost Australians’ mood and wellbeing as they emerge from lockdown and adapt to this new normal. We know that when you feel happier and in a better mood, life is easier. It gives you some reserves for unexpected events, like a pandemic.  And, if you want to tackle your weight gain, you will do better if you are feeling better in yourself. When your wellbeing is improved, challenges become more manageable, you have closer connections to your friends and family, and you are more likely to set better goals. There are some really interesting studies that show when people are in a negative frameset, their thinking becomes narrower and more restricted but when they are in a positive mood, they can think more broadly and clearly in the face of challenges." (Dr Emily Brindal - June 2020)

A June 2020 survey of nearly 4000 CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet online community members found that respondents are emerging from COVID-19 lockdown feeling their exercise (66 per cent), emotional wellbeing (41 per cent) and diet (36 per cent) had worsened to some degree, with two in five indicating they have gained weight during the outbreak.

CSIRO Behavioural Scientist and report author Dr Emily Brindal described the findings as reflective of the challenges that millions of Australians are facing as they struggle to maintain wellbeing amidst a significant lifestyle shift.

"Our analysis found that the COVID-19 outbreak has negatively impacted respondents' health and wellbeing," Dr Brindal said.

"According to our research there are clearly concerns around social connectedness, with 90 per cent of respondents feeling that there has been a negative impact on their ability to socialise and celebrate special events.

"Increased concern about finances and the certainty of the future also featured strongly, as restrictions ease and respondents adjust to a new normal."

Of the respondents who have gained weight during the COVID-19 outbreak, 61 per cent reported an increase in junk food consumption and 63 per cent reported an increase in snacking.

The research also showed that some personality types are finding this time more challenging than others.

"Almost 60 per cent of respondents reported a negative shift in their overall satisfaction with life," Dr Brindal said.

"This number was noticeably higher for those who were identified as highly extroverted, with this group seeing significant impact from the lack of social interaction.

"Those identified as highly emotional eaters also reported higher decreases in their average wellbeing levels than others."

In light of the findings, in June 2020 the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet launched a new and improved online program to now include positive psychology tools with a focus on boosting wellbeing and mood. Using the positive psychology research, the new online tools will help members to gain skills in optimistic thinking and guide them in daily practices that are scientifically validated to build positive emotions.

"The survey findings indicate a clear need for something to give Australians a mood boost as they emerge from lockdown and adapt to the new normal," Dr Brindal said.

"Lockdown has proven to be a time of both challenge and opportunity for Australians, with this 'global pause' allowing us to reset and rebuild as we look towards the future.

We asked Dr Brindal "How important is "positive psychology" right now, what is it and how should people approach it?"

Dr Brindal told us, "We identified a need for the tools to boost Australians’ mood and wellbeing as they emerge from lockdown and adapt to this new normal."

Read about "The Better Normal Research Project"

We know that when you feel happier and in a better mood, life is easier. It gives you some reserves for unexpected events, like a pandemic.  And, if you want to tackle your weight gain, you will do better if you are feeling better in yourself. When your wellbeing is improved, challenges become more manageable, you have closer connections to your friends and family, and you are more likely to set better goals.

There are some really interesting studies that show when people are in a negative frameset, their thinking becomes narrower and more restricted but when they are in a positive mood, they can think more broadly and clearly in the face of challenges."

Read more about "Mental Health and Optimism"

"In terms of psychology, Positive Psychology is the new kid on the block. Research is only just skimming the surface, but it appears that feeling good affects everything from your health, to your friendships and your success.

But the best part is that this can be achieved through small, simple tasks. In light of the findings, we developed the new CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet program with a renewed focus on improved psychological wellbeing using the principles of Positive Psychology to help members boost their mood and wellbeing. "

"The new program innovation for the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet online program supports members to put positive psychology knowledge into action, including tools to do this such as, science-based content on boosting psychological wellbeing, and the option for one-on-one support with a dietitian. The combination with this wellbeing boost, eating better and staying active can be a true game changer for members’ overall health."

To find out more about the new and improved CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet visit www.totalwellbeingdiet.com 

Download a copy of the report: A wellbeing survey of the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet database during the COVID-19 pandemic [pdf · 1mb]


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