More veg, fewer takeaways: how covid is changing consumption

How has the pandemic changed the way people shop, cook and eat? More vegetables, more home cooking and baking. But also higher consumption of saturated fats; and a bit of bulk buying. Surprisingly, there was also a decrease in the consumption of takeaway food and a rise in ‘organisational food practices’ (planning ahead, for example, or shopping with a grocery list,).

Those are the main findings from what researchers in Ireland claimed to be the “first published research across multiple continents on changing food practices due to covid-19”.

The experts from the Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) at Queen’s University Belfast and St Angela’s College, Sligo (part of National University of Ireland, Galway) quizzed 2,360 adults across four regions – the island of Ireland, Great Britain, USA and New Zealand – between May and June last year.

“We wanted to find out what impact the pandemic and lockdowns were having on people’s health but we also wanted to try to find a way of measuring the effect on global food systems,” said lead researcher Fiona Lavelle from the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s.

More meals from scratch and the consumption of a “better variety” of fresh food were positive trends, she explained. Brits “significantly increased” their consumption of fruit and vegetables, for example.

Lavelle added: “One of the survey results that interested me most was that cooking with children has increased, which is good for the children – but our study highlighted potential positive benefits for parents’ diet quality too when children were involved.”

However, there were also some “red flags”, including the rise in saturated fat consumption, which may be down to ‘comfort eating’ during lockdown. The researchers discovered a reduction in the use of takeaways, which could have a positive impact on health but a negative one on struggling local economies.

“…treating oneself, reciprocating and supporting local eateries, may be an economic and community response to such unprecedented times rather than a health or food response,” they wrote in their paper published in the journal Nutrients.

Policymakers could look at health promotion messages that emphasise “limited consumption” of takeaways, for example as a “treat” that has the additional benefit of supporting local businesses, the academics said.

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