Health Behaviors during the COVID-19 Pandemic – Preliminary Findings


On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a pandemic. Following the rapid spread of the virus, the Ministry of Health in Israel, as in many other countries, issued increasingly strict directives severely restricting movement outside of the home, including the closure of educational institutions, the cancellation of group recreational activities, and the requirement for many employees around the country to work from home.

Study Goal

The study goal was to examine the impact of these directives on health behaviors among the adult population aged 20-64 and report on the consequent needs arising from the isolation and prolonged confinement at home.

Study Method

The study was based on a panel survey of 1,500 Jewish residents of Israel, aged 20-64. The survey was conducted from March 26-29, 2020.


The main findings are as follows:

  • Half of the respondents reported that they eat meals together with their family members more frequently than usual.
  • 56% of the respondents noted there has been a change in the quantity of food they consume: 43% reported that they are eating more than usual and 13% that they are eating less. Forty-three percent of the respondents noted that they are eating more snacks and/or candy than usual.
  • 56% of the respondents with children under the age of 18 living with them reported that the children are eating more than usual. Sixty-four percent said that the children are eating a greater quantity of snacks and/or candy.
  • 41% of the respondents reported that they are sleeping longer hours than usual. Thirty-three percent noted that they are sleeping less well.
  • 60% of the respondents reported a decline in the duration and frequency of exercise and 57% noted a decline in the intensity of their exercise.
  • 65% of the respondents with children under age 18 living with them reported that their children are exercising less frequently and for a shorter time than usual and 61% reported a decline in the intensity of their children’s exercise.
  • 68% of the respondents are spending more time than usual in front of screens, for work, studies or recreation. Seventy-six percent of those with children living at home reported an increase in the number of hours their children spend in front of screens.
  • 47% reported that they feel down, depressed, or more hopeless than usual. Fifty-one percent of the respondents reported feeling lonely sometimes or often, compared with 19% who reported these feelings prior to the pandemic.[1] We also asked the respondents whether, in time of crisis or distress, they would have someone to rely on for help. Seventy-nine percent said they had someone to rely on, compared to 96% prior to the pandemic.[2]
  • Among the respondents who had been smoking in February (before the directives concerning the COVID-19 pandemic were issued), 40% replied that they are smoking more than usual.
  • Half of the respondents would like to receive professional advice about ideas for physical exercise while they are confined at home and 36% would like recipes for baking and cooking healthy food. Seventy-nine percent would like to receive various types of professional advice via the internet.
  • Only 19% of salaried employees and self-employed respondents reported that there was no change in their work conditions. Among respondents who reported changes, 25% are now working from home, 19% are working fewer hours, and 35% have stopped working altogether. Seventy-three percent of salaried workers are on unpaid leave.
  • 73% of the respondents noted that they believe that their financial situation will worsen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Discussion and Conclusion

The findings show that as a result of prolonged confinement at home and social disconnect from their surroundings, there have been changes in the health behaviors of adults and children alike. Increased food consumption, especially snacks and candy, and the decline in the frequency and duration of physical activity are liable to have a negative impact on health, particularly if the restrictions concerning leaving the house continue for an extended period. Furthermore, the high percentage of respondents reporting a sense of loneliness and not having anyone to rely on compared to regular times indicates a detrimental impact of the closures on the respondents’ emotional state. On the other hand, the increase in eating family meals together and the public’s interest in professional advice on various topics, and via various channels, shows that the period of confinement at home is an opportunity to promote healthy behaviors and to develop services to mitigate negative impacts – for example, to formulate and disseminate recommendations for exercise at home and to increase the options for receiving online professional guidance on healthy behaviors.

[1] Central Bureau of Statistics. (2019). Social Survey 2017. Annual topic: Health and way of life. Jerusalem: CBS.

[2] Idem.

For MJB’s publications on the COVID-19 pandemic in English, press here.

For MJB’s publications on the COVID-19 pandemic in Hebrew, press here.