Has the pandemic turned us into a nation of snackers? Here's what the latest data has to say.

July 13, 2020

New Data Suggests COVID-19 Has Led to Increased Snacking & Drinking in the U.S., Resulting in a Weight Gain 5x More 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%).
  • Understanding your body’s biology, by looking at how it processes food and dietary inflammation through predictive analytics can help keep COVID lockdown weight gain at bay

Webinar: Eating habits in the US during lockdown

The state of nutrition during lockdown

Data from health science and nutrition company ZOE shows that COVID-19 lockdown has led to increased snacking and alcohol consumption. ZOE has carried out one of the world’s largest nutrition surveys through their COVID Symptom Study app. Of the 97,000 respondents, 31% have reported an increase in snacking with an average of 7 lbs of weight gained from March to June. Drinking has increased by 20% 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, scientific co-founder of ZOE. “Controlling your blood fat and sugar levels helps to reduce dietary inflammation and is better for your long-term health. 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)

Why does this matter?

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, 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. 

To better understand how your body might process fats and sugars, ZOE and leading scientists have developed a biological test kit and insights report that helps you understand your biology. The ZOE program then helps to retrain your biology — reducing dietary inflammation and improving your gut health — by eating the right foods for you with their revolutionary app. On average, pilot users have lost 5 lbs in just four weeks. The ZOE program is currently accepting people to its 20,000 strong waitlist and will be available to early applicants this July.

ZOE is also the creator of the COVID Symptom Study app, which uses AI and symptom data to predict the spread of COVID-19 in real-time. The app has 4 million users globally, with multiple scientific papers in journals such as Science and Nature Medicine. 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. Public health efforts are increasingly focused on reducing the health impacts of many conditions associated with poor nutrition and being overweight, including COVID-19.

About ZOE

ZOE is a health science company using data-driven research to tackle the world’s health issues. By using artificial intelligence combined with digital technologies, ZOE enables large-scale scientific studies to tackle issues like COVID-19, dietary inflammation and the impact of nutrition on health. 

Located in London and Boston, ZOE was founded by Professor Tim Spector of King’s College London, machine learning leader Jonathan Wolf and entrepreneur George Hadjigeorgiou. ZOE has carried out the largest nutritional studies of their kind in the world, runs the COVID Symptom Study app with 4 million users around the world, and was named one of the Deloitte Fast 50 Rising Stars in 2019 for the company’s contribution to science enabled by technology and machine learning. 

For more information on ZOE’s mission and science visit joinzoe.com. Find us on Instagram @ZOE.

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