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Coping as a family through the COVID-19 Pandemic: Learnings from the Guelph Family Health Study

September 1, 2020

Author: Candace Aqui, MPH, RD, Program and Policy Consultant at Nutrition Connections

In this 4-part blog series, Nutrition Connections is featuring important and timely research findings from the Guelph Family Health Study (GFHS), a long-term study following families over many years to learn new ways to help parents of young children set healthy routines for eating, activity, sleep and screen time at home.  The series will feature research in the areas of the impact of COVID-19 on families, food waste, stress and body fat, stress and screen time.

From teachers strikes, being confined to our homes during a pandemic, concerns with maintaining employment in the face of an economic shutdown, and now returning to school, COVID-19 has unearthed a new level of tensions, pressures and worry for all of us. It has also exposed the importance of having a social net and an emergency preparedness plan to help those in need and prevent people from falling through the cracks.

Families have had to navigate the closure of schools, child care, community centres, parks, recreational programs and summer camps, all while doing their part with physical distancing and ensuring their kids are not wiping their noses on their shirts…or other’s shirts. Needless to say, it has been a wild ride.

While families usually have a lot on the go, no one could have predicted having to deal with a pandemic, or how that it would completely change daily routines and behaviours. Recognizing the need to learn more about how families are coping, the GFHS Research team conducted a survey of families belonging to their cohort study.  In this survey, parents were asked specifically about the impact of COVID-19 on their eating patterns, physical activity, sleep, screen time, family stress levels and financial and food insecurity.1

As expected, families reported significant changes to their lifestyles due to COVID-19. However, a significant outcome for this study was the identification of strategies that parents used to cope or maintain their current routines and manage additional stressors. Some were grateful for the opportunity to use the extra time to do activities together as a family. Others recognized that they needed help and turned to therapy or medication to deal with anxiety. Parents also identified the areas they needed more help with, such as resources for having conversations with their children about COVID-19, improving mental health and time management. These finding demonstrates the resilience of families as well as the ability to identify challenges and the need for additional support. However, more research is needed to understand the needs of families who are visible minorities, with lower income, and/or those who may have different experiences.

Nutrition Connections is proud to work with the Guelph Family Health Study to feature the research findings from this study. In addition to an easy-to-read infographic that highlights the survey results, the GFHS Research team has also created resources for parents to address the needs raised in the study. Please consider providing us some feedback on the infographic in the pop-up survey on your screen.

This study provides a glimpse into how some families’ lives have been affected by the pandemic. Congratulations to the GFHS Research Team for establishing the importance of this research and setting the groundwork for continued exploration into how to help families not just cope but thrive in the face of a major crisis.

For more on the GFHS COVID-19 research, check out this University of Guelph press release, and CBC’s Ontario Morning radio interview with Dr. Jess Haines on August 21, 2020.

References:

1. Carroll N, Sadowski A, Laila A, Hruska V, Nixon M, Ma DW, Haines J, on behalf of the Guelph Family Health Study. (2020). The Impact of COVID-19 on Health Behavior, Stress, Financial and Food Security among Middle to High Income Canadian Families with Young Children. Nutrients; 12(8):2352.