Lockdown and our Eating Habits

Weighing up Boris’ obesity strategy. Will eating out, help out?

Not only have we all experienced lifestyle changes throughout lockdown, but our eating habits have changed too. With the initial lockdown forcing us to remain in our homes alongside the closure of restaurants, some have been forced to reflect on their lifestyle choices and consider ways to improve their health (BBC, 2020). Others, however, have turned to excessive snacking and perfecting their baking skills, forcing supermarkets to stock and sell 3kg commercial bags of flour which are usually only supplied to caterers (The Grocer, 2020).

During the first 12 weeks of lockdown, the British public consumed 38% more pasta (Panorama: Has Lockdown Changed What We Eat?, 2020), and other unexpected surges in demand have led to panic-buying, stockpiling and supermarket shortages during the peak of the lockdown. YouGov surveyed more than 2,000 people, which revealed that 27% of the respondents had been eating less healthily during lockdown, with the biggest driver being boredom (Personnel Today, 2020). These worrying statistics, together with the rise in screen time and fall in activity levels (British Heart Foundation, 2020) and the alarming realisation that obesity-related conditions put individuals at a higher risk of COVID-19 complications (World Obesity Federation, 2020), encouraged the Government to spearhead a new initiative which has been coined “Boris’ Obesity Strategy”. Boris’ health scare in April 2020, due to contracting coronavirus (BBC, 2020), has sparked an acceleration of a widespread interventionist approach to tackling obesity. With 29% of adults being classified as obese (NHS Digital, 2020), urgent action is required.

A policy paper entitled “Tackling obesity: empowering adults and children to live healthier lives” was published on 27th July 2020 (Department of Health and Social Care, 2020). Amongst the measures highlighted, the government has recognised that “[a]s a nation we are eating and drinking too many calories” (Department of Health and Social Care, 2020).

However, it seems that the public is receiving mixed messages given the recent introduction of the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme (Gov.UK, 2020), which encourages the public to eat out as many times as they like Monday-Wednesday by offering a financial incentive to do so. Not only does the scheme risk undermining Boris’ obesity campaign, but does so at a staggering financial cost to the taxpayer of approximately £500 million (BBC, 2020). Designed to rescue the collapsing hospitality sector and salvage thousands of jobs, the scheme may be perceived as a threat to public health, as we are being subsidised to eat meals with a high fat and sugar content (The Guardian, 2020) whilst being in close proximity of others, increasing our exposure to catching COVID-19. It is time to pause and consider whether your health is really worth £10?

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