Pandemic Stress Causes Many U.S. Consumers to Put Dieting on the Backburner

CHICAGO — Stay-at-home restrictions and the stress of the global pandemic have caused many consumers to put dieting on the backburner.

According to the NPD Group's Health Aspirations & Behavioral Tracking Service, adult participation in total diet or nutrition programs dropped from 48.3 percent last April to 43.8 percent in this April. However, consumers on lifestyle diets such as keto, gluten-free and clean eating has remained relatively unchanged from a year ago.

"Nutrition programs, like keto and gluten-free, offer a clear roadmap that provide consumers a sense of control," said Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst for NPD. "On the other hand, indulgent comfort foods provide an escape from increased stress levels and offer a simple splurge that is popular during challenging times. Both paths are coping mechanisms to managing stress and disruption."

Consumers surveyed said that a disruption in routine made it more difficult for them to maintain participation in diet and nutrition programs, and they were challenged with stress eating. In-home snack occasions increased 4 percent and snack food consumption increased 8 percent due to consumers stress eating.

NPD found that salty snacks and sweet treat consumption increased as consumers reported less avoidance of sugar, salt and alcohol as they opted for choices that provided comfort. Additionally, with consumers accepting carbs into their diets, sales of cookware and appliances such as metal bakeware, stand mixers and waffle irons gained popularity.

"I believe this pause will be temporary because weight loss and overall wellness concerns remain strong, which suggests consumers will go back to nutrition plans when they feel they can incorporate them back into their lives," Seifer commented. "How long the U.S. will deal with COVID-19 and related economic concerns, however, will determine how quickly we return to healthier habits."

Chicago-based NPD offers data, industry expertise and prescriptive analytics to businesses grow in a changing world.