Britons Consumed More Calories During Pandemic, Study Says

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New research backs what may have been self-evident to many Britons for months: people ate more during the pandemic, even with restaurants and pubs closed for months on end.

A study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that people consumed 15% more calories than normal in May 2020, and that remained 10% higher on average during the second half of the year. The research group analyzed millions of food and drink purchases from stores, restaurants and takeout providers.

“The huge changes in where people work, eat and socialize over the past year have led to a significant rise in calorie intake,” said Kate Smith, IFS associate director and author of the research published Thursday. “Ninety percent of households increased their calorie intake, with the largest rises for the wealthiest households.”

Calories from takeouts peaked at more than double their pre-pandemic levels during a second lockdown in November as coronavirus infections surged. Those from food purchased at supermarkets and grocery stores were also 10% above normal throughout the pandemic. It meant that consumption at home more than offset the effect of a ban on eating in at restaurants.

Britons Consumed More Calories During Pandemic, Study Says

Higher consumption rather than food waste or stockpiling is the most likely reason for higher caloric intake in most households, researchers said. Young working-age households in London were among those with the largest increases, likely due to social distancing rules emptying city offices and prompting a major shift to remote work.

Increased home working driving higher caloric intake could exacerbate the challenge of improving population diet and reducing obesity levels, the report said.

“An important question for policy makers is whether higher calorie consumption persists as we emerge from the pandemic,” said co-author Martin O’Connell.

“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.”

The authors nevertheless stressed that the “significant minority” struggled to access food during the pandemic. According to the Trussell Trust, which supports 1,200 food banks in the U.K., a record 2.5 million food parcels were given to people in crisis in the year through March, a 33% annual increase.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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