While restaurant re-openings saw takeaway consumption fall through 2020, takeaway consumption began to rise again going in to 2021, this time to around 470 calories per week during the third national lockdown in England. These higher levels have endured: takeaway consumption in the first quarter of 2022 was around 400 calories a week – 50% above pre-pandemic levels.

This marks a change in where households get calories when eating out, rather than how much they buy, as the overall level of calories purchased had returned to its 2019 level by 2022. In other words, the increase in takeaways has come at the expense of calories from coffee shops, pubs and restaurants. 

Households’ food shopping baskets also got bigger through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Even outside strict lockdown periods in 2020, households purchased around 170 more calories per adult per day – an increase of 9% over pre-pandemic levels. The healthiness of shopping baskets did not change markedly over the period. But, despite fears at the time, these effects have proven mostly temporary: by 2022 the size of households’ shopping baskets had largely returned to normal. 

These are among the findings of new IFS research, funded by the Obesity Policy Research Unit. This research, which was only able to look at data up to the first quarter of 2022 (before the cost of living crisis), suggests that the major shift in diets and nutrition during the pandemic could have been short-lived in terms of the number of calories consumed. But since there has been no corresponding reduction in calories to offset the increases during the pandemic, the changes that occurred in the 18 months from March 2020 could still have long-term effects on health and weight.

Andrew McKendrick, Research Economist at IFS and an author of the report, said: ‘The COVID-19 pandemic saw huge changes in both how many calories households were buying, and where they came from. Lockdowns and closures of hospitality left a bigger role for consumption of food at home and for takeaways. But, by the start of 2022, most of these changes had been reversed: households had largely gone back to purchasing as much as they did in 2019. The pandemic did leave one legacy, though, in the much-increased use of takeaways.’

Notes to Editor

1.    This study/project is funded by the NIHR PR-PRU-0916-21001. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

2.    The contents of this publication are the authors’ own analysis and findings based on Kantar Worldpanel Take Home and Out of Home data, covering January 2019 to March 2022. The Take Home data cover grocery purchases made by households in Great Britain, which they scan once they get home. A booklet is provided for non-barcoded items. A subset of households also record their out of home purchases – such as in coffee shops, pubs and restaurants, on-the-go purchases from supermarkets (e.g. lunch-time salads or meal deals) and takeaways.

3.    ‘Healthiness’ of shopping baskets is defined in the report based on the nutrient profiling model, developed by the Food Standards Agency to identify ‘less healthy’ foods and drinks that are subject to restrictions during children’s television programming. More information here.