The only birthday present I got this year was COVID-19
Social gatherings have been linked to increased rates of COVID-19, and that includes birthday parties, according to a report published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
A team of researchers from Harvard Medical School analysed healthcare data from 2.9 million US households, and found that households that held small and informal gatherings, particularly birthday parties, had 31% more diagnoses than those that did not.
Children’s parties increased diagnoses threefold compared to adult birthday parties, but milestone birthday parties (i.e. 50th) did not appear to increase diagnoses at all.
Pandemic stress high in young people
An Australia’s youth report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) suggests that young people may have been hit harder by psychological distress, job loss and educational disruption during the pandemic.
The report found that experiences of severe psychological distress among people aged 18 to 24 increased from 14% in February 2017 to 22% in April 2020, and of the 592,000 Australians who lost employment in April 2020, 38% were aged 15 to 24.
“Adolescence and young adulthood is a critical period in a person’s life,” says Sarah Mills of AIHW. “Young people often experience rapid physical, social and emotional changes in a time where they are transitioning from dependence to independence.
“This is a time when young people are finishing school, pursuing further training and education, entering the workforce, moving out of the family home, and forming relationships.”
Beware lockdown snacking
“The new stresses created by the pandemic appears to be associated with reported increases in overall savoury and sweet snack intake,” says lead researcher Nicola Buckland, who assessed dietary survey responses from 588 people during the first UK lockdown (May–June 2020).
“The findings showed that, in terms of dietary changes, not everyone responded the same way to the lockdown. Over half of the respondents (53%) reported increased snack intake, 26% reported decreased snack intake and 20% reported no changes to the amount of snacks they ate during the lockdown.
“When we looked at the participants’ eating styles (based on responses to the questionnaires), we found that participants who scored low in the ability to control cravings were more likely to report increased snack intake.”
The results mirrored those in Australia, although its sample size was only 124.
The lingering loss of smell
Even though COVID-19 has been around for more than a year, not everyone who contracted the virus has had their sense of smell return. An international team of researchers tested 51 patients who lost their sense of smell (anosmia) and found that after four months, eight of them still had no ability to smell. After a year, only two still suffered from the condition.
The anosmia of the 51 patients was confirmed both subjectively and objectively, but other patients were excluded from the study as their anosmia may have been psychosomatic. The study included mostly women and young people, and may not represent all demographics.
The study was published in JAMA Network Open.
Blaming COVID-19 can help couples endure stress
The pandemic provided a unique landscape to test a hypothesis that major events such as natural disasters can be used as scapegoats to blame for stress.
“Because of this awareness, when major stressors occur, romantic partners may be less likely to blame each other for their problems and more likely to blame the stressor, which may reduce the harmful effects of stress on the relationship,” says Lisa Neff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the study’s co-authors.
The study involved researchers analysing data from 191 participants over seven months during the pandemic.
“As expected, people generally were more blaming of the pandemic for their current problems than they were blaming of their romantic partner,” Neff says, noting that this tendency came with important relationship benefits. “Individuals who were more blaming of the pandemic were more resilient to the harmful effects of stress.
“When couples are aware that stress may be impacting their relationship, it’s easier for couples for shift blame for their problems away from each other and onto the stressor.
“Doing so can help partners support each other more effectively, and ultimately be more successful in weathering those difficult times.”
Deborah Devis is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science (Honours) in biology and philosophy from the University of Sydney, and a PhD in plant molecular genetics from the University of Adelaide.
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