Has COVID-19 influenced healthier diet choices?

30 March 2021

Healthy, sustainable diets are necessary for global development but eating habits are habitual and can prove resistant to change. An opportunity to achieve healthier, more sustainable dietary behaviors can be brought about by disruptions in daily life, including events such as the COVID-19 pandemic. 

To assess whether COVID-19 has influenced positive dietary changes, scientists at Plant & Food Research, along with colleagues in Uruguay and Italy recently surveyed around 900 adults in the USA. The results showed that the COVID-19 pandemic had been a catalyst for making healthy dietary change/s among a significant proportion of those surveyed (around 44%). 

Additionally, the survey findings suggest that positive dietary change/s were correlated with age – with people below forty more likely to have made positive change/s. Alternatively, being in the 40-59 age bracket was a barrier to positive change/s in eating behavior. Education was another variable that influenced positive dietary change/s. 

The joint influence of demographic, socio-economic, disruption-specific and psychographic variables on positive dietary change/s have so far been under-explored in research. In this survey scientists found that the positive change group had a lower degree of neophobia (fear of new or unfamiliar foods) and also placed more emphasis on health as a motive of daily choices about food and drink.

Interest in boosting immunity and protection from COVID-19 was an important reason underlying the higher importance attached to health, according to the results of this survey. Next to health the two most important factors in food choices were price and sensory appeal. 

The contribution of psychographic variables in differentiating between groups of people who did and did not make positive change/s in response to COVID-19 demonstrate the importance of these variables in explaining the complex factors that motivate food-related consumer behavior. 

The limitations of the study include only considering positive dietary change/s although reports of negative change/s have been reported elsewhere. Additionally, the study was not longitudinal and did not quantify the magnitude of change/s participants made. Finally, causality was not investigated. 

Journal Reference
Jaeger SR, Vidal L, Gastón A, Chheang S, Spinelli S  2021 Healthier eating: Covid-19 disruption as a catalyst for positive change. Food Quality and Preference.
http://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodqual.2021.104220