01 Jul COVID-19: Calorie intake ‘rises in 90% of households’ during pandemic – and working from home could be a factor | UK News
Nine in ten British households consumed extra calories during the pandemic – as people had more takeaways and bought more at the supermarket, according to a study.
Working from home may also have been a factor in driving people’s increased intake, say researchers at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).
A large and sustained calorie increase peaked at 15% above normal intake around May 2020 – near the end of the first UK lockdown, says the IFS.
It remained about 10% above normal until the end of the year.
The study used data on millions of food and non-alcoholic drink purchases from shops, restaurants and takeaways.
Calories from restaurant meals fell to zero early in the pandemic as they were forced to close, before recovering over the summer and falling again in autumn.
But takeaway calories rose significantly, peaking at more than double usual levels during the second lockdown in November 2020.
Services such as Just Eat and Deliveroo have attracted more users during the pandemic, with a Which? survey finding six in 10 people were using takeaway apps pre-pandemic, compared with seven in 10 now.
Calories from supermarkets and smaller stores were also more than 10% above normal levels during the course of the pandemic, the IFS says.
However, it doesn’t mean these were necessarily all “bad” calories.
The study found people increased their intake more from raw ingredients than from products such as ready meals and treats, suggesting they were cooking more from scratch.
The IFS says the most plausible explanation for the calorie increase is higher consumption, rather than people stocking up or changes in household composition.
Retired households were found to have the smallest increase, and wealthier people the largest.
People in London and those with a relatively younger person as head of household also recorded a larger increase, according to the study.
The IFS says this is associated with a higher chance of them having to work from home, suggesting new working practices are a factor in people consuming more.
Kate Smith, 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 percent of households increased their calorie intake, with the largest rises for the wealthiest households.”
Martin O’Connell, IFS deputy research director, said it was important for officials to monitor whether higher calorie consumption continues after the pandemic.
“Our findings point towards increased home working as a factor in driving higher calorie consumption,” he said.
“This could exacerbate the challenge of improving population diet and reducing obesity levels.”