Calorie Consumption Rose by 15% During the Covid-19 Pandemic

·2-min read
Photo credit: fizkes - Getty Images
Photo credit: fizkes - Getty Images

Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has found that since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic the number of calories we're all eating has risen by as much as 15%.

Using data compiled from millions of food and non-alcoholic drink purchases from shops, takeaways and restaurants, the IFS claims that in the past year there has been a large and sustained increase in the number of calories consumed by British households.

According to the IFS, calorie consumption was 15% above the normal level towards the end of the UK’s first national lockdown in May, and remained about 10% above normal at the end of 2020.

“An important question for policymakers is whether higher calorie consumption persists as we emerge from the pandemic,” said Martin O’Connell, deputy research director at IFS and co-author of the research.

“Our findings point towards increased home working as a factor in driving higher calorie consumption. This could exacerbate the challenge of improving population diet and reducing obesity levels.”

Predictably, calories from restaurant meals fell to zero during the UK’s first national lockdown, but rather than contributing to people lowering the number of calories they consumed overall, British diets were propped up by a large increase in calories from takeaways, which peaked at more than double the usual levels in the UK’s second national lockdown in November 2020.

However, even with the major increase in home working, ready-to-eat meals and snacks and treats proved less popular than home cooked meals, with the pandemic leading to a shift in the balance of calories towards foods that required home preparation.

Kate Smith, an IFS associate director and an author of the research, said: “The huge changes in where people work, eat and socialise over the past year have led to a significant rise in calorie intake.

“Increases in food consumed at home more than offset drops in calories from eating out. Ninety per cent of households increased their calorie intake, with the largest rises for the wealthiest households.”

Mark Franks, director of welfare at the Nuffield Foundation, one of the funders of the research, said: “We know that the pandemic has had major impacts on both physical and mental health, spread unequally across society. Through important new analysis of changes to people’s diets, this report adds to that evidence base.

“The rise in calorie consumption reinforces the need to address some of the systemic issues behind food inequality, such as the cost of a healthy diet relative to a less healthy one, that can also contribute to obesity.

“It also should not distract from the significant minority who have struggled to access food throughout the pandemic, as evidenced by increased use of food banks and concerns over lack of access to free school meals.”

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