The effect of COVID-19 pandemic on Google search activity on foods: an analysis of the public interest in Italy
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University of Catania Italy
Publication date: 2023-04-26
Popul. Med. 2023;5(Supplement):A420
Background and Objective:
COVID-19 pandemic had a great effect on lifestyles and behaviors, which however remains to be clarified in terms of strength and direction. Here, we analyzed Google Trends data to evaluate changes in the interest of Italian people on food categories, before and during the pandemic.

Data on internet searches from January 2018 to June 2022 were obtained from Google Trends, using the terms: fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole-grains, nuts and seeds, milk, red meat, processed meat, and sugar-sweetened beverages. For each term, relative search volume was measured and ranged from 0 (no interest) to 100 (highest interest). Joinpoint regression analysis was used to assess changes in public interest on foods, and results were expressed as weekly percent change (WPC).

Public interest in fruit, vegetables, milk, and whole-grains exhibited a similar trend, with the highest peak observed during the first COVID-19 lockdown. Particularly, public interest in fruit and vegetables increased up to the highest peaks reached from 15th to 22nd March 2020 (WPC= +37.13%) and from 22nd to 29th March 2020 (WPC= +20.21%), respectively. The public interest in milk, instead, reached its peak from 23rd February to 22nd March 2020 (WPC= +36.38%). The trend was similar for whole-grains, even if the public interest reached the peak slightly after (from 12th to 19th April 2020; WPC= +4.99%). However, the interest in these foods returned to the pre-pandemic levels after the first lockdown period. Moreover, we pointed out other changes in public interest for some foods (i.e., legumes and red meat), which however were not related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our findings showed a significant influence of COVID-19 pandemic on public interest in food categories, even if this effect was limited to the first lockdown. Thus, further research should be encouraged to evaluate the long-term effect of pandemic.