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Are Americans changing their eating and drinking habits under COVID-19?

Is the pandemic having an effect on the way we behave around food and alcohol?

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Surveys have become part of our lives. We don’t like to participate in them but we sure like to see their results. Two recent surveys looked at how Americans are behaving regarding their eating and drinking habits during the pandemic and stay at home recommendations.

The International Food Information Council (IFIC) regularly surveys American consumers to understand their perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors around food and food purchasing decisions. This year’s survey is very special as it was conducted against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic (online survey in 1,011 Americans ages 18 to 80, between April 8 to April 16, 2020). It also explored how food and health behaviors have changed in the past decade (2010-2020).

The COVID-19 pandemic is transforming the way we behave about food.

85% of Americans have made at least some change in the food they eat or how they prepare it because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Among those who made the changes, 60% report cooking at home more, 32% snacking more, 30% washing fresh produce more often and 27% thinking about food more than usual.

Nearly half of consumers (49%) are concerned about the safety of the food prepared outside their homes like takeout and delivery and the food they eat outside like in a restaurant (46%). There is also concern about food safety when shopping online (42%) or at the grocery store (36%).

The biggest shift for in-person shopping is that fewer Americans are making multiple trips a week.

These concerns are more prevalent among parents with small children (under 18), who also tend to eat when feeling emotional and feel less satisfied with what they eat.

Compared to a decade ago, our behavior around food is evolving (independent of the pandemic)

The bad news is that an increase in fast food and eating out (24%) and processed food consumption (20%) were thought by participants to be the main changes in the diet over the last 10 years.

But there are also good news. More than half (54%) of all consumers and 63% of those age 50+, say the healthfulness of their food choices matters more now than it did in 2010. Nearly double the number of consumers (41% vs 23%) are now aware of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans compared to 2010.

43% reported being on a diet within the past year, whether to lose weight, improve their physical appearance, having more energy or improving their health (up from 38% in 2019 and 36% in 2018). Intermittent fasting (10%), clean eating (9%), ketogenic or high-fat (8%) and low-carb (7%) diets were the most popular.

People are shifting into plant based sources for meat and dairy. More than 4 in 10 consumers would assume that a product that is described as plant-based would be healthier than one that is not, even if it had the exact same Nutrition Facts label. Compared to 2019, 28% reported eating more protein from plant sources, 24% eating more plant-based dairy and 17% eating more plant-based meat alternatives.

Also good news is that most Americans are trying to avoid sugars (74% this year and 80% in 2019), mainly for health reasons, to avoid the extra calories and maintain their weight. 

COVID-19 has not changed American alcohol drinking habits

Another survey commissioned by Responsibility.org to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting American adults’ drinking habits showed that 86% of Americans are confident they drink responsibly, and 84% reported they didn’t increase drinking during working hours.

The survey found that 33% of respondents are drinking about the same at home and 28% are drinking less (including 11% who have quit drinking entirely). For those drinking less, consumers said the reason was down to bars (38%) and restaurants (33%) being closed during the pandemic.

Summary

Americans have adapted to the pandemic by limiting their trips to the grocery store, cooking more at home and having more snacks, behaviors that taken together will probably lead to a weight loss increase. COVID-19 seem to have had little impact on alcohol drinking behavior. Compared to a decade ago Americans are shifting the attitude towards their diet with an increasing focus on healthfulness.

As the country continues to open up we need to make an effort to reduce sedentary behaviors, become more physically active, and follow the principles of health eating with a focus on portion sizes to shed off the extra pounds we may have put on during confinement.

References

https://foodinsight.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/IFIC-Food-and-Health-Survey-2020.pdfhttps://www.responsibility.org/media_center/most-americans-drink-responsibly-under-stay-at-home-orders/

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