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Diet, Nutrition and Physical Activity in 2020: a follow-up study during COVID-19

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Published: September 2021

The study aimed to describe and assess the possible impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the diet and physical activity of people in the UK by following up participants who had previously taken part in the National Diet and Nutrition Survey rolling programme.

Public Health England have published the report Diet, Nutrition and Physical Activity in 2020: a follow-up study during COVID-19. The study aimed to describe and assess the possible impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the diet and physical activity of people in the UK by following up participants who had previously taken part in the National Diet and Nutrition Survey rolling programme (NDNS RP). The study was carried out by a consortium comprising the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) and the MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge.

Methods

Individuals who had previously taken part in the NDNS RP (between April 2016 and March 2020) and consented to be contacted again about further research were asked to take part in the study. Self-reported diet and physical activity data collected between August and October 2020 for around 1,000 adults and children was compared with their diet and activity data obtained at the time of their original NDNS RP interview. Data on food security, financial security and changes in dietary and health-related behaviours since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK in February 2020, were also collected in this study through a web questionnaire with the aim of helping to understand the context for any changes in diet and activity. Adults were also asked to complete a Recent Physical Activity Questionnaire (RPAQ), again to compare with their reported physical activity when originally assessed in the NDNS RP.

1,046 participants (567 females and 479 males) completed a web questionnaire between August and October 2020. Thirty per cent of those who were invited to take part in the study completed the web questionnaire (1,046 individuals, 567 females and 479 males) and 89% of this group (930) went on to complete at least 1 dietary recall.

Go to the MRC Epidemiology Unit webpage to read a summary about the findings on diets in 2020, variation in diets by food and financial security, and changes in diets and physical activity: https://www.mrc-epid.cam.ac.uk/blog/2021/09/22/diet-nutrition-physical-activity-2020-during-covid.

A summary of the report findings from the web questionnaire are presented below.

Findings

Food security and financial security

  • In response to questions about financial security in 2020 since the start of the pandemic, most participants reported living comfortably (38%) or doing alright financially (40%). 17% of participants reported that their household was just about getting by financially while a further 5% reported finding it quite difficult or very difficult. Households with children were more likely to report that they were managing less well financially (26%) or that their financial situation had worsened since the start of the pandemic (33%).
  • Nineteen per cent of participants reported that they, or someone in their household, had cut down or skipped meals since the start of the pandemic. The most common reason given was the food they wanted not being available in the shops (14%). Three per cent of participants reported not having enough money to buy food as a reason for cutting down or skipping meals. For those who were managing less well financially the proportion was higher at 14%.
  • Ten per cent of participants reported they were somewhat worried and 1% very worried about not being able to afford food in the next month. More than half (52%) of those who were worried about not being able to afford food in the next month reported cutting down or skipping meals.

Changes to food shopping, preparation and consumption habits

  • More than two thirds of participants (68%) said that they/their households visited grocery shops less often since the start of the pandemic. Participants from households managing less well financially were more likely than other participants to report buying items on special offer, changing where they shopped or changing types of food purchased for cheaper alternatives.
  • Fifty-nine per cent of households reported that they had cooked at home more since the start of the pandemic. Thirty-six per cent reported that they had eaten more fruit and vegetables and 38% reported eating fewer takeaways, while 33% said they had snacked more between meals.
  • Thirty-four per cent of households reported that they had used food delivery services (such as Deliveroo or Just Eat) since the start of the pandemic and 10% used them at least weekly. Households doing alright or managing less well financially were more likely to report that they used food delivery services than those living comfortably financially.

Download from Public Health England