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The dietary impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

IFS Working Paper W21/18

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to significant changes in where people work, eat and socialise. We use novel data on the food and non-alcoholic drink purchases from stores, takeaways, restaurants and other outlets to quantify the impact of the pandemic on the diets of a large, representative panel of British households. We find that a substantial and persistent increase in calories consumed at home more than offset reductions in calories eaten out. By May 2020 (towards the end of the UK’s first national lockdown), total calories were, on average, 15% above normal levels, and they remained higher than normal for the rest of 2020. All socioeconomic groups increased their calorie purchases, with the largest rises for the highest SES households and the smallest for retired ones. Our findings suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated changes in people’s lifestyles have exacerbated the challenges of improving population diet and reducing obesity levels.

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Press release
Using data on millions of food and non-alcoholic drink purchases from stores, takeaways and restaurants, the analysis shows that: by May 2020, total calories were 15% above normal levels. During the second half of 2020, they were still, on average, 10% higher than usual.