Industry urged to offer healthier food choices as COVID-19 exacerbates unhealthy eating
22 Jun 2020 --- As COVID-19 measures begin to loosen globally, the nutrition industry is examining the effects the outbreak and its subsequent lockdowns have had on consumers’ eating habits. A British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) survey found that stress and boredom boosted unhealthy eating, while an Atkins-endorsed study showed that consumers are rethinking their habits with 70 percent looking to take a break from certain foods. In light of the findings, BNF and Atkins experts tell NutritionInsight that to avoid negative health outcomes industry should reformulate toward healthier, low-sugar options and review products’ portion sizes.
“The food environment can play a big role in how we eat and industry needs to be part of the solution to tackling obesity and helping people to eat more healthily. Many issues that we faced prior to the coronavirus in terms of overweight, obesity and poorer dietary patterns are likely to persist as restrictions are lifted. The food industry can contribute to addressing this by helping to make healthier choices easier for consumers for example, by continuing work to reformulate products, by shifting promotions to favor healthier options and reviewing the portion sizes of their products,” says Alex White, Nutrition Scientist at BNF.
“The food and nutrition industry needs to focus on providing healthy, low-sugar options for consumers. At Atkins, we are strong advocates for diet guidelines that reflect current science to ensure consumers have strong nutritional guidance to make the best choices,” notes Colette Heimowitz, Vice-President of Nutrition, Education and Research at Atkins.
Stress eating caused by lockdown
The BNF survey revealed that stress, anxiety, tiredness and boredom were the main causes of unhealthy eating habits in lockdown. Notably, 63 percent of people in the UK attribute boredom, and 45 percent of people attribute stress, anxiety and tiredness as being one of their main reasons for eating less healthily than usual during lockdown. Nearly half of people (48 percent) said that not feeling motivated enough to eat well was one of their key reasons for opting for unhealthy foods.
The survey, which was conducted by YouGov, sought to explore how the changes to consumers’ daily lives resulting from the coronavirus outbreak impacted eating habits and activity levels since lockdowns began in March. The research surveyed 2,067 adults from across the UK and reveals that 27 percent of respondents feel they have been eating less healthily during lockdown, 50 percent of people state their habits have not changed and 22 percent say they have been eating more healthily than usual.
The survey also found that 30 percent of people claim that not being able to go to the supermarket as often is making it difficult for them to eat healthily.
When asked about their priorities for health and well-being as the coronavirus restrictions are gradually lifted, 47 percent said they want to become more active and exercise more, 43 percent say they want to lose weight and 29 percent say they want to eat more healthily.
“While the coronavirus outbreak has brought the importance of health to the forefront, the measures we’ve had to take as a nation to control the virus have made it challenging for many of us to eat well and keep active. People are clearly looking to improve their health as the lockdown measures ease and eating healthily was cited as a key priority,” explains Sara Stanner, Science Director at the BNF.
“It’s more important than ever to be healthy. For changing unhealthy habits from lockdown, a good approach is to try to make small, manageable changes that you can stick to in the longer term. Small changes can make a big difference to health if you can keep them up and so things like making sure to build some more activity into the day, swapping to healthy snacks and adding plenty of vegetables to meals can really help,” adds White.
Looking to improve eating habits
According to the survey conducted by US-based Atkins, the company behind the famous low-carb diet, many people are rethinking their habits with 70 percent wanting to take a break from certain foods when the quarantine is lifted, including fast food (25 percent), frozen pizza (22 percent) and even ice cream (16 percent). While a third of people say their eating habits have become healthier during quarantine, staying home has wreaked havoc on the way many people eat. A fifth of respondents stressed that their eating habits have become less healthy while in quarantine.
“We thought it was very interesting that a whopping 70 percent of people wanted to take a break from certain foods as quarantines are being lifted. We found this interesting because these foods are popular comfort foods,” Heimowitz notes.
“We’ve seen some studies that show people with pre-existing medical conditions such as hypertension, obesity or diabetes had a greater chance of being hospitalized for COVID-19. These are conditions that can be improved with proper nutrition and it’s important for people to make their health a priority. We believe that small changes can have a big impact on overall health,” she asserts.
Consumers can boost their healthy eating habits by ensuring they are getting a balance of optimal protein, healthy fats and fiber-rich carbs into their diets, Heimowitz highlights. This balance helps keep one’s blood sugar levels steady which improves overall health and well-being.
The survey was conducted by Wakefield Research between May 6 to 11, and questioned 1,000 nationally representative US adults aged 18 and over. The study used an email invitation and an online survey.
It found that as people revise their lifestyle habits, they seek to buy and consume more foods that are low in sugar and carbohydrates (45 percent) and unprocessed (29 percent). Overall, 27 percent of people want to choose immunity boosting foods in the future. The survey also showed that 23 percent of Gen-Zs ranked immunity boosting as their top priority, while 29 percent of city/urban residents ranked it as the second most important factor (as opposed to 20 percent of suburban/rural residents).
People also responded that they miss eating out in restaurants with 88 percent looking forward to going out post-COVID-19. Of those wanting to go to restaurants, the cuisines that reign supreme are Mexican (18 percent), steakhouses (14 percent) and seafood (13 percent). Millennials stood out with their desired preference being Chinese food (17 percent).
By Kristiana Lalou
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