Nutrition and COVID-19 Recovery

A new study looks at information and resources available to patients

Can we improve the recovery process of COVID-19 patients by giving them more information on nutrition, exercise, and emotional support? A Food4Health online survey conducted in five European countries gave useful insights into the counselling of patients and their caregivers.

People who are recovering from COVID-19 often suffer from fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle aches and loss, loss of smell and taste, depression, or forgetfulness. Whether someone is fighting a mild case of COVID at home or a severe case in the ICU, the risk of malnutrition and muscle loss increases due to reduced physical activity, lower appetite, and for moderate/severe cases, increased inflammation or catabolism, when the body starts breaking down tissue for energy. One of the most important aspects of promoting overall health and recovery is to prevent and treat malnutrition and muscle loss. The right foods and exercise are important for them to get better. This is not easy, as people may experience symptoms that make eating and exercising a challenge. Adequate information can help individuals make the best choices for their recovery. But do patients and their caregivers receive the right information? A survey from Food4Health – a collaboration between EIT Health and EIT Food – with support from Abbott, a global healthcare company, provides insight into how nutrition education may help recovery from COVID-19.

Raising awareness on the role of nutrition on recovery

“Food4Health wants to create international awareness about the importance of nutrition in recovery,” says Hayley Every, cross-KIC program manager for Food4Health. “So in this study on the recovery of COVID-19, we included patients and caregivers from five countries – the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy and Germany.”

The study included 112 respondents – 36 patients and 76 caregivers. Most of the patients suffered from mild or moderate symptoms. The survey asked them about their main sources of information or advice, whether they had received information on the role of nutrition, exercise and emotional support, and whether these elements were included in the treatment. A goal was to understand whether the patients were given meal plans and/or oral nutritional supplements and if they considered these to be beneficial to their recovery. Finally, the survey included questions to better understand if individuals would be interested in additional information and how they would like to receive this – from their healthcare provider, the internet, the media or other. Gathering insights from five different countries was a priority to better understand if the outcomes were different per country, and how information can be tailored country-by-country or at the level of the healthcare professionals and patients.

Nearly half of COVID-19 patients were not adequately informed on nutrition

A healthy diet and exercise can contribute greatly to a quick recovery and people’s well-being. In relation to COVID-19, people who suffer from obesity or malnutrition are linked to worse outcomes and increased infection risks. The nutritional status of people with COVID-19 is critical as it can impact immune response and the severity of illness. In addition, research has shown the importance of nutrition for muscle health maintenance and improvement, which is key during recovery, not only during hospitalization but also after discharge. The European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (ESPEN) produced expert statements and practical guidance for the nutritional management of individuals with sars-cov-2 infection.

“Unfortunately, this information often does not reach the patients and their caregivers,” says Esther Castanys Munoz, PhD, a nutrition scientist at Abbott. “About 50% of the respondents did not receive information on nutritional supplements and exercise, so there is room for improvement.”

When asked about their preferred source of information, many respondents indicated, especially in the United Kingdom, that they would like to receive more information by telemedicine or remote consultation. The patients who did not receive the information also did not get oral nutritional supplements.

A call for early nutrition intervention

When asked about nutritional support received, there were no great differences between the five countries. In the UK and Spain, fewer survey respondents received nutritional supplements, but of all respondents who did receive them, 80% believe the nutritional supplements helped in their recovery.

“In Europe, we must keep raising awareness on the importance of adequate nutrition and exercise, not only in the case of COVID-19 but in general, as a means of prevention and of recovery,” states Maria Camprubi, PhD, a nutrition scientist at Abbott. “This study showed us the gaps in the treatment and indicated that there is opportunity to give better information and nutritional supplements, especially when individuals are recovering at home.”

The Abbott Nutrition Health Institute (ANHI) will share information and materials with healthcare professionals related to the survey on its website (, which also contains many other educational resources. In addition, EIT Health will disseminate the results of the survey on the EIT Health website and social channels.

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