The pandemic has influenced not only our everyday life but also our behaviour. Agroscope looked at which population groups and behaviours experienced or underwent particularly significant changes, and what this means for our health.
Between June and July 2020, the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO) surveyed 1028 people from throughout Switzerland on how their work situation and their exercise and dietary behaviour changed during the first lockdown in the 2020 pandemic year.
More homemade bread
For 13 food categories, survey respondents stated whether consumption had decreased, remained the same or increased during the first lockdown. The greatest increase was recorded for homemade bread, with 43% of those questioned claiming that they were eating more of it. Increased consumption of homemade bread was also documented in studies from other countries. Producing food and thus supplying the household with nourishment can impart a feeling of security which many yearned for since the start of the pandemic. Further increases in consumption were recorded for the two categories of sweet (+25%) and savoury (+24%) snacks. Here too we may surmise that this can be attributed to the effect of comfort eating, i.e. the consumption of specific foods in order to feel better.
Decreases were also recorded, however. The consumption of fresh ready meals fell by an especially sharp 28%. Frozen ready meals also recorded a significant decrease of 24%. Since respondents stated that they generally spent more time cooking, it can be assumed that they increasingly prepared fresh products rather than relying on processed ones.
More vegetables but also more snacks and alcohol consumed when working from home
In response to the question about workplace, 48% of employed respondents stated that they continued to go to their workplace during the first lockdown, whilst 52% worked partly or entirely from home. We also learned that people with higher educational qualifications more often worked from home. Since working from home reduces contact with others, this means a lower risk of infection with COVID-19 for these people. The option of working from home also changed the behaviour of the respondents, with those working from home stating e.g. that they consumed more vegetables and salad, ate fewer sweets or were more physically active. However, a percentage of people working from home also increased their consumption of sweet snacks, consumed more alcohol and were less active than those who continued to go out to work.
The pandemic as a catalyst of behavioural change
These results suggest that the pandemic was a catalyst for behavioural changes. Just what form these changes have taken, however, depends strongly on the individual situation and circumstances of the respondents. There was a tendency towards positive behavioural changes in people who worked from home. A tendency towards negative behavioural changes was recorded in people who were especially concerned about being able to afford a healthy diet. People with a lower educational level and higher BMIs were more strongly affected by the pandemic and measures to contain the spread of the virus. During lockdown, they were significantly more worried about whether a healthy and balanced diet was still available and affordable.
- Working from home led to both healthy and unhealthy changes in behaviour.
- The consumption of both fresh and frozen ready-meals decreased significantly during the first lockdown in the 2020 pandemic year.
- The consumption of homemade bread increased significantly in the first lockdown.
- Results suggest that the pandemic has further reinforced existing social inequalities.