Is COVID-19 changing food consumption behaviour?

Is COVID-19 changing food consumption behaviour?
Photo by Liuba Bilyk / Unsplash

A recent study conducted in China showed that COVID-19 had modified individual consumption behaviour concerning food purchase.

There is no doubt that the unprecedented and relentless COVID-19 pandemic has transformed our lifestyles and limited our mobility. When it comes to alterations in our behaviour post the beginning of the pandemic, individual eating patterns remain overlooked. The uncontrollable stress may have played an essential role in overeating in some cases. However, in others, there may be a promotion of healthy and balanced dietary habits after the lockdown to boost immunity and downgrade the health risks. In China, people reported increased consumption of green vegetables and fruits than pre-pandemic.

A studycarried out by Li et al. (2021) showed how sustainable consumption patterns altered due to the COVID-19 in China. The study had the following objectives:

1.     To study the changes in buying food products with sustainable attributes as a sustainable purchasing behaviour.

2.     To study the effect of the lockdown on the sustainability of behaviours’ decisions using changes in consumers’ diet (whether they adopted a healthier food choice or not) as a sustainable consumption shift.

3.     To study how food behaviour changed during the COVID-19 lockdown.

How was the study conducted?

The study used a semi-structured questionnaire and collected the data two months after the lockdown was lifted—the research comprised 1006 consumers from China. Researchers defined three dependent variables for the study, sustainable purchasing behaviour, sustainable healthy diet adoption and food waste behaviour change. At the same time, independent variables were identified based on their potential to affect consumption behaviour (See Figure 1). The variables were measured, and three binary logistic regressions were estimated.

Source: Li et al., (2021)

Findings of the study

Gender and age were found to be significant in impacting sustainable behaviour. Additionally, food and financial security, health risk perceptions were found to be critical in investigating food consumption patterns among individuals. The study found that females were more likely to increase sustainable consumption patterns than males when compared to the pre-lockdown scenario. People between the age of 40-59 years were more likely to buy food with sustainable attributes than people between 18-39 years. The size of the household was also found to be significant in defining sustainable food choices. Households with four members generated less food waste while consuming a healthier diet than individuals living alone. People with higher risk perceptions consumed healthy diets and purchased more food, leading to an increase in food waste during the lockdown.

Limitations of the study

The study lacked people aged over 60 due to their limited access to computers, which means that the results need a cautious application in terms of its generalization to the population.

Future research

Since the study was conducted, the COVID-19 pandemic has been significantly defining the ‘new normal’ across the world. More investigations are needed with larger samples for further implications based on the current findings; comparative and contextual studies within and between different regions would provide deeper insights. The results may contribute to designing social policies promoting sustainable eating habits to reduce the risk posed by the health crisis.