More South Africans suffering from anxiety, overeating and under-exercising over other health concerns due to COVID-19: Poll

by WeCare Pharmacy Network
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Women are more likely to say they are impacted. Anxiety, overeating and under-exercising, insomnia, and depression are all seen as problems arising as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown in South Africa.

Only three in every ten online South Africans (30%) indicated that they do not suffer from any of the listed conditions. Males were slightly less open to answering the question than females were.

In an online poll, conducted from 7 – 10 May 2020, the question was asked:

“Are you suffering from any of the following as a result of Covid-19?”

Conditions listed Online adult South Africans
Anxiety 32 40 22
Overeating 29 33 25
Under exercising 29 32 26
Insomnia 25 30 19
Depression 20 21 16
Decreasing alcohol use 17 14 19
Migraines 10 13 7
Increased smoking 8 7 9
Under eating 7 8 6
Over exercising 4 4 4
Increasing alcohol use 3 2 3
None of these 30 27 33
Prefer not to answer 3 1 5

*Please note: Respondents were not asked whether they have suffered from these conditions at some time before the pandemic.

With unlimited exercise hours commencing on the 1st of June, one can assume that less people will complain about insufficient exercise, but the Level 3 regulations will not make a difference to those suffering from anxiety, overeating, insomnia, and depression.

Interpreting the table above, women clearly feel that they are suffering more from these conditions than men are.

South Africans are not alone in experiencing negative psychological effects from the coronavirus and lockdown.

In keeping with the ban on alcohol sales in South Africa during lockdown level 4, almost one in every five (19%) men indicated that they have consumed less alcohol, with females not far behind at 14% – and despite the ban on cigarette sales, 8% are smoking more than they did before the pandemic, probably adding weight to the reports about the easy accessibility of illicit cigarettes in the country.

Internationally, top 2 concerns are insufficient exercise and anxiety

More people across 16 countries say they feel that they are suffering from not exercising enough and anxiety. This is out of 11 possible ailments presented as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a global poll of more than 16,000 online people, conducted from 7 to 10 May, about one-third of the respondents in 10 countries say they are under-exercising because of Covid-19, with this sentiment highest in Japan (38%), South Korea (37%), Italy (33%), China (31%), Mexico and Russia (30%).

The second most cited health concern on the international list is anxiety, with at least a quarter of people in 11 countries saying they are suffering from this because of the pandemic. Respondents in Brazil (41%), Mexico (35%), Russia and South Africa (32%), and Canada (29%) are more likely to say this.

how is covid19 impacting people

Stewart Shankman, Chief of Psychology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, USA, said the pandemic is fraught with uncertainty ̶ about how long it will last, who will catch it, etc., and uncertainty is one of the biggest precipitants of anxiety.

We also know that physical activity has important cardiovascular and health benefits, including supporting our body’s natural immune system,” said Prof. Shankman. “Thus, the high rate of under-exercising will actually hinder our ability to fight any virus it comes in contact with.

Overeating and insomnia were reported as the next two down the list of ailments that people are suffering from. Respondents in Brazil (39%) were most likely to say they are overeating, followed by South Africa and Mexico (29%), Canada (28%), and the United Kingdom (25%).

Those in Mexico (38%), Brazil (26%), Spain and South Africa (25%) were most likely to say they’re suffering from insomnia.

Dr. William Schaffner, Professor of Preventive Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre in Nashville, USA, said if you are home with food, and feeling sad and lonely from being isolated, there is a greater tendency to snack.

You will reduce your physical fitness and there is a tendency to gain some weight,” said Prof. Schaffner.

how is covid19 impacting people by gender

Meanwhile, women are more likely than men to say they are impacted in all the categories except for alcohol consumption and increased smoking. The percentage of younger women – those aged 34 and under – were also more likely to cite insomnia, anxiety and depression as result of the outbreak.

Some not affected

Overall though, more people across the 16 countries said they were not affected by any of these conditions because of the pandemic. This sentiment was true for the majority in Germany (53%) and France (52%), followed by Japan (44%), Australia (43%) and the United States (41%).

Prof. Shankman said these results highlight people’s resilience and something we’ve seen in response to numerous other natural disasters and traumas in the past. Still, Prof. Schaffer advises people to move around as much as they can while keeping a social distance.

Try to get out there and try to restore some of the normal rhythms of your life and make that associated with physical activity to keep moving,” he said.

For more information on this news release, please contact:

Mari Harris
Director and Political Analyst, Ipsos South Africa
Mobile: +27 (0)82 557 5058
Ezethu Mandlelize
Service Line Manager: Public Affairs, Ipsos South Africa
Mobile: +27 (0)74 617 8023

About the Study

  • These are the results of an Ipsos survey conducted May 7th to 10th, 2020 on the Global Advisor online platform among 16,000 adults aged 18-74 in Canada and the United States and 16-74 in Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea and the United Kingdom. Where available, tracking results from previous studies conducted through March and April, as well as selected results from February, are referenced by date.
  • The sample for this study consists of approximately 1,000 individuals in each country. The samples in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan, South Korea, the U.K. and the U.S. can be taken as representative of these countries’ general adult population over age 16 or 18 (as above) and under the age of 75. The sample in Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Russia, and South Africa is more urban, more educated and/or more affluent than the general population and should be viewed as reflecting the views of the more “connected” segment of the population. The data is weighted so that each market’s sample composition best reflects the demographic profile of the adult population according to the most recent census data.
  • Where results do not sum up to 100 or the ‘difference’ appears to be +/-1 more/less than the actual, this may be due to rounding, multiple responses or the exclusion of don’t knows or not stated responses. The precision of Ipsos online polls is calculated using a credibility interval with a poll of 1,000 accurate to +/- 3.5 percentage points. For more information on the Ipsos use of credibility intervals, please visit the Ipsos website (

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