Lockdown eating insights: Has the pandemic turned us into a nation of snackers?

September 14, 2020

New data from the COVID Symptom Study suggests that COVID-19 has led to increased snacking and drinking in the U.S., resulting in 5x more weight gain than during the holidays

  • Snacking and alcohol consumption has increased significantly during lockdown and many reported a reduction of activity.
  • Those reporting an increase in snacking gained 7 lbs on average and those reporting an increase in drinking gained an average of 4.6 lbs.
  • Evidence from large epidemiological studies shows that sustained weight gain can result in ill health and increased risk of type 2 diabetes (by 27%), cardiovascular disease (by 12%) and cancer (by 21%).

Data from the COVID Symptom Study suggests that COVID-19 lockdown has led to increased snacking and alcohol consumption in the U.S. A total of 97,000 respondents completed one of the world’s largest nutrition surveys through their COVID Symptom Study app. Of these individuals, 31% have reported an increase in snacking with an average of 7 lbs of weight gained from March to June, and 20% reported an increase in alcohol consumption with an average of 4.6 lbs gained in the same time period.

“The reported snacking and drinking weight gain in lockdown is significant, given the short timeframe,” said Tim Spector, lead researcher of the COVID Symptom Study. “Snack foods tend to be highly processed and our research has shown that compared to the rest of our diet, snacks are rich in saturated fat, refined starch, and added sugar, and low in fiber.”

Snacking and alcohol consumption has increased significantly during lockdown, with those reporting an increase in snacking gaining 7 lbs on average and those reporting an increase in drinking gained an average of 4.6 lbs.

The top 10 snacking states during the COVID-19 lockdown by weight gained (lbs)

The average lbs gained over a typical holiday season is 0.81 lbs from November to January and from September to March the average lbs gained outside of lockdown is 1.05 lbs [1]. Evidence from large epidemiological studies shows that sustained weight gain can result in ill health and increased risk of T2D (by 27%) [2], cardiovascular disease (by 12%) [3], and cancer (by 21%) [4].

Research shows that each kg (~2.2 lbs) of weight gained annually over 10 years was associated with a 49% increase in risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the subsequent 10 years. Data has also shown that a 5 kg (~11 lbs) increment in adult body weight was associated with a 12% higher risk of CVD incidence.

“In the US, people typically snack 2-3 times a day which accounts for 22% of their total energy intake,” said Sarah Berry, Associate Professor of nutritional science at King's College, London, and principal scientist advising ZOE. "Our research has found that swapping from typically consumed snacks to healthier snacks such as almonds reduced many CVD risk factors which correspond to an estimated risk reduction of 32% for CVD.”

Data from PREDICT [5,6], the world’s largest nutrition study led by ZOE, shows that snacking on highly refined foods throughout the day causes sugar spikes and increases the build-up of fat in the bloodstream, leading to dietary inflammation. Dietary inflammation explains the unhealthy metabolic effects that can be triggered after we eat.

Repeated, excessive blood sugar and fat rises can lead to long-term inflammation, weight gain, and chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Many different mechanisms are involved, from increased calorie consumption as a result of regular blood sugar crashes to oxidative stress and altered blood fat metabolism.

This is significant, as data from the COVID Symptom Study app confirms that people who are obese are more likely to end up in hospital with COVID-19. People living with diabetes, cancer and heart disease are also at increased risk of hospitalization.

Interested in learning more about the state of nutrition in the U.S. during lockdown and the link between snacking, nutritional responses, and weight gain? Join Prof. Spector on Thursday, July 16th at 9am ET for a free webinar where he will take a closer look at these findings and what they mean for your health.

Sign up for the webinar here.

References:

  1. Yanovski JA, Yanovski SZ, Sovik KN, Nguyen TT, O'Neil PM, Sebring NG. A prospective study of holiday weight gain. N Engl J Med. 2000;342(12):861-867. doi:10.1056/NEJM200003233421206
  2. Ford, E. S. et al. (1997) Weight Change and Diabetes Incidence: Findings from a National Cohort of US Adults. American Journal of Epidemiology. 146 (3), 214–222.
  3. Zheng, Y. et al. (2017) Associations of Weight Gain From Early to Middle Adulthood With Major Health Outcomes Later in Life. JAMA. 318 (3), 255–269.
  4. Keum, N. et al. (2015) Adult Weight Gain and Adiposity-Related Cancers: A Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Prospective Observational Studies. JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 107 (2)
  5. Berry S, Mazidi M, Franks P, et al. Impact of Postprandial Lipemia and Glycemia on Inflammatory Factors in over 1000 Individuals in the US and UK: Insights from the PREDICT 1 and InterCardio Studies. Curr Dev Nutr. 2020;4(Suppl 2):1518. Published 2020 May 29. doi:10.1093/cdn/nzaa068_003
  6. Berry, S.E., Valdes, A.M., Drew, D.A. et al. Human postprandial responses to food and potential for precision nutrition. Nat Med 26, 964–973 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-020-0934-0
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