Exploring University and Healthcare Workers’ Physical Activity, Diet, and Well-Being During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Background: The COVID-19 pandemic affected well-being and health behaviors, especially among healthcare workers and employees in other fields. This is of public health concern because health behaviors and well-being influence long-term negative health outcomes. The purpose of this study was to explore health behaviors and well-being among university and medical center staff during COVID-19.

Methods: EMPOWER (Employee Well-being during Epidemic Response) was a three-wave observational study (wave 1: 1,994; wave 2: 1,426; wave 3: 1,363) measuring health behaviors and well-being of university and medical center staff. Surveys were disseminated online to all employees between April and September 2020. Descriptive statistics explored trends across waves for health behaviors (physical activity [PA], diet), and well-being (mental well-being [MWB], depression, anxiety, and stress). Logistic regressions explored associations between health behaviors and well-being factors adjusting for demographics and clinical role. Interactions explored moderation by clinical role.

Results: Most participants reported same/healthier changes in PA (54-65%) and diet (57-73%) and decreased MWB across waves (62%-69%). Nonclinical workers were less likely than clinical workers to experience worse MWB and moderate/severe anxiety and stress (odds ratios [ORs] ranged from 0.38 to 0.58 across waves and well-being outcomes). Participants who maintained/increased PA and diet were less likely to experience worse well-being (ORs ranged from 0.44 to 0.69 across waves and well-being outcomes). Interactions by clinical role were not significant.

Conclusion/application to practice: Maintaining/increasing health behaviors during COVID-19 may be protective of mental health/well-being in some healthcare workers. These findings support health promotion efforts focused on maintaining or improving diet and PA.

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