Binge eating, alcohol and less physical activity hit England’s mental health during COVID-19 lockdown

27 July 2020

Poor nutrition and less physical activity, during lockdown, adversely affected mental health in England, according to preliminary findings today from an Oxford University study.

The worrying results come from a survey from the Unit for Biocultural Variation and Obesity (UBVO). It shows poor eating and reduced physical activity have been important factors in negative mental health during lockdown. The survey reveals:
• A stark rise in negative mental health since the start of lockdown measures – with younger adults disproportionately suffering
• Decreased physical activity – 46% of participants are less active
• Increased binge eating and consumption of processed snacks and alcohol

Stanley Ulijaszek, Professor of Human Ecology and UBVO Director, says, ‘COVID-19 lockdown has resulted in increased levels of anxiety, poor sleep, persistent sadness, binge eating, suicidal thoughts, snacking, consumption of alcohol and reduced levels of physical activity. These changes have potential long-term consequences for obesity rates and chronic disease more broadly.’

More than 800 adults in England, aged between 18 and 81, took part in the electronic survey between 19 June and 6 July. They were questioned about mental health, eating and physical activity before lockdown, during early lockdown and at the time of survey.

Notes for Editors

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Sabine Parrish, project administrator |


  1. Data collection is ongoing. The full Insight Report is available on the UBVO website 
  2. If you (or your institution) are interested in participating, the survey will be live until 31 July at
  3. This study is supported by the University of Oxford Social Sciences Division COVID-19: Economic, Social, Cultural, & Environmental Impacts - Urgent Response Fund.

About the Unit for Biocultural Variation and Obesity
The Unit for Biocultural Variation and Obesity (UBVO) is an interdisciplinary research unit based in the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford. We are dedicated to understanding the complex and interwoven causes of obesity in populations across the world. Our Fellows, Associates, and students represent a diversity of disciplines, both within and beyond the academic sphere, and we bring together scholars of different disciplines to identify and work on multidisciplinary problems in obesity, and of the socio-cultural and political correlates and drivers of this phenomenon in particular. Discipline areas involved in collaboration at Oxford include anthropology, public health, epidemiology, politics and international relations, economic history, and sociology. Learn more about our work at

About the University of Oxford
Oxford University has been placed number one in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for the fourth year running, and at the heart of this success is our ground-breaking research and innovation. Oxford is world-famous for research excellence and home to some of the most talented people from across the globe. Our work helps the lives of millions, solving real-world problems through a huge network of partnerships and collaborations. The breadth and interdisciplinary nature of our research sparks imaginative and inventive insights and solutions. Through its research commercialisation arm, Oxford University Innovation, Oxford is the highest university patent filer in the UK and is ranked first in the UK for university spinouts, having created more than 170 new companies since 1988. Over a third of these companies have been created in the past three years.