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After watching news of the coronavirus and its spread across the world last week, Sarah Colby, associate professor of nutrition at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, wondered what she could be doing to make a difference.

“What are the skills I could donate? I knew I could be doing more to help,” said Colby.

Colby sent an email to colleagues in the nutrition and public health departments in UT’s College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences and followed up with a Zoom call.

Soon after, Colby and a group of eight other researchers from the college and the UT Institute of Agriculture developed a survey to assess what people are doing about food and how other health behaviors may be impacted by COVID-19.

Collaborators include Cristina Barroso, associate professor of public health, Betsy Steeves, assistant professor of nutrition, Doris D’Souza, professor of food science, Katie Kavanagh, associate professor of nutrition, Samantha Ehrlich, assistant professor of public health, and UT Extension faculty Christopher Sneed, Kristen Johnson, and Janie Burney.

Colby crowdsourced help from leading nutrition professionals across the United States to refine the survey, which is being shared with the public online (it is available here).

“Everyone donated their time to help others,” Colby said.

Among the items that researchers are hoping to better understand are shifts in food consumption habits since the advent of COVID-19, concerns about respondents and their families running out of food, access to food resources or assistance programs, and how concerns about the virus affect physical activity and stress.

“Our hope is to provide vital resources and information to support health professionals and government agencies making decisions to support communities as soon as early as next week,” Colby said.

Since posting the survey, the researchers have received more than 7,300 responses. From the results they’ve collected so far, it appears many respondents are eating more than before, are more sedentary, and feel increasingly stressed and lonely.

“These patterns may increase long-term chronic disease risk for many people,” Colby said.

Researchers are currently working on adding resources to their website showing how people can be more active, cook healthy meals, and manage stress.

“We want people to be healthier, now and tomorrow,” Colby said. “By focusing on our wellness, we may not only be more able to fight off the coronavirus if we do get sick but may reduce the risks of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or some cancers in the future.”


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Jules Morris (865-974-8916,

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