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05/03/2021

Canadians struggling with eating habits during COVID: Survey

Findings point to a big opportunity for grocers to help consumers on the health front
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Shutterstock/aslysun

COVID-19 threw Canadians’ eating habits for a loop, with 74% saying the pandemic impacted their eating habits, according to a new survey by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.

The survey’s intent was to measure how the pandemic has affected Canadians’ health and food habits, and how well they’ve been coping with stress.

More than three quarters of those surveyed (77%) agreed their stress level was impacted by the pandemic, with younger generations feeling it the most: 83% of millennials and 82% of gen Z said they’re more stressed than before the pandemic. By comparison, 78% of gen X and 68% of boomers are more stressed. The most significant personal pandemic stressor has been self-isolation from friends and family, with 67% seeing this as the top stressor.

More than half of Canadians (51.4%) said they tend to eat when they feel worried about the pandemic. Women are slightly more inclined to stress-eat due to the pandemic than men, with 53% of women admitting to stress-eating during the pandemic, versus 47.1% for men.

When it comes to weight management, 58% of Canadians said their weight has changed “undesirably” since the beginning of the pandemic. Of that group, 73% said they’ve gained “extra and unintentional weight” since March 2020. That means 42.3% of Canadians have gained some weight since the start of the pandemic. Conversely, 15.6% said they have lost weight. Of those who have gained weight, 37.3% have gained six to 10 pounds.

Meal management has also been a challenge since the start of the pandemic. Only 8.8% of Canadians said they had been able to manage mealtimes properly, while 32.5% said they are able to, most of the time.

As for snacks, most Canadians aren’t reaching for healthy options. Only 26.1% believe they eat healthy snacks “all the time,” or “most of the time,” while 73.9% said “occasionally” or “never.”

“The biggest challenge is that most people have actually lost their food bearings in terms of when to snack and when to eat,” says Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University. “With many Canadians working from home and a lot of changes in their routines, it’s very difficult to plan in advance.”

However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Charlebois notes that as we approach summer and potentially looser lockdown restrictions, people are starting to think about the lifestyle they want to have post-pandemic. “You want to eat well and you also want to live well,” he says.

“It’s important for grocers to really acknowledge that Canada is leaving the pandemic less healthy, and how can you, as a grocer, become a partner to Canadians who are looking for a healthy path coming out of the pandemic,” says Charlebois.

A total of 9,991 Canadians were surveyed in April 2021. The survey was conducted in partnership with Caddle.