How did Covid-19 change our clients' eating habits?
At the time of writing this piece, COVID-19 cases are on the decline and
vaccination status is on the rise. I don’t want to jinx it, but it does feel like a good time to take a deep breath and reflect on how nearly a year and a half of a new style of living has impacted Canadians and how this might shape dietetic practice (beyond just doing more virtual appointments).
I took a close look at various surveys and news pieces from across Canada and have put together some
insights that I’m confident my colleagues will find valuable.
How Has COVID-19 Shifted Dietary Patterns?
In order to answer this question I will pick out some highlights from a variety of surveys published
throughout the pandemic.
Let’s start with this Dalhousie University survey published in April of this year that surveyed Canadians across different age demographics.
More than ¾ of Canadians agreed stress was increased during the pandemic, with >50% saying they were more likely to eat in response to stress or worry over the pandemic.
Only 1 in 4 Canadians was confident in their snacking selections being good for them all or most of the time.
About 60% of Canadians felt they were not able to manage mealtime properly during the pandemic.
Now on to a survey published in January 2021 out of Applied Physiology, Nutrition & Metabolism.
Looking specifically at undergraduate students in Saskatchewan, this survey found COVID-19 led to decreases across multiple food groups including fruits, vegetables, dairy, nuts, meat and meat alternatives.
Time sedentary, alcohol consumption and snacking frequency all increased.
Finally let’s take a closer look at a survey of middle income families with young children, published in the Nutrients journal in August 2020.
Over half the participants reported that COVID-19 has altered their eating habits.
More families are reporting cooking meals from scratch than pre-pandemic.
Increased consumption of “snack foods” and larger role for snacking.
Increased stress levels associated with home-schooling and economy-related concerns.
What Does This Mean For Nutrition Professionals?
While there is little question that the pandemic has affected different demographics in different ways, I
do observe some relevant trends and topics in these data that I believe will be relevant for dietitians to
be aware of as we move forward into the summer, including:
The bi-directional connection between stress and food consumption. How can we put our clients in the best possible position to reduce stress around food intake? Can we hold a conversation about the connection between specific nutrients and mental health? ( Look out for this as a next topic!).
The role of snacking. Do we have a repertoire of fun and easy snack ideas for our clients that can compete with their current choices?
The role of structure. Can we help support our clients arrange their day in a way that serves them, as many report having lost some semblance of structure in their food intake that they used to have.
Can we build on the positives? Although I’m sure food and ingredient delivery services are thriving, I have presented some data here today that suggests certain demographics are cooking from home more. Can we help them build on these positive habits with more recipes and novel food combinations?
My hope is that the insights provided in today’s article will offer you that little bit of extra value as you push forward into the (hopefully) post COVID-19 world and continue to support your clients via your expertise and content creation.
Andy De Santis RD MPH