Unintended COVID consequences: Over a third of Aussies gain weight

Updated 22 Dec 2020.

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A new LiveLighter® survey1  has revealed 37 per cent of Australians reported gaining weight between February and July this year - a time when most Australian states were under some form of COVID-19 restrictions.

While around a third of Australians reported an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption (30 and 34 per cent respectively), there was a concurrent increase in consumption of unhealthy products, particularly among younger adults, parents and those under financial stress since the implementation of COVID-19 restrictions. 

LiveLighter®'s annual Shape of Australia survey analysed responses from more than 2000 Australians aged 18-65 regarding how Australians have changed a number of lifestyle behaviours since February 2020.

National findings of the survey included:

  • 37 per cent said they had gained weight.
  • 72 per cent were concerned about their weight, 49 per cent were trying to lose weight.
  • 41 per cent were snacking more throughout the day compared to before COVID-19.
  • 26 per cent have increased ordering food directly from a local restaurant or café and 24 per cent have increased ordering takeaway from an online delivery service.
  • Younger adults (18-24 years), parents and those under financial stress due to COVID-19 were more likely to be snacking more, eating more fast food and drinking more alcohol (compared to older adults, non-parents and those with no financial stress due to COVID-19).

LiveLighter® Campaign Manager and dietitian, Emma Glassenbury, said while the survey highlights room for improvement, it's important to consider the way unhealthy food companies capitalised on the pandemic, marketing their unhealthy foods, sugary drinks and alcohol2, especially during times of increased screen usage.

"While most of us try to stick to a healthy diet as much as possible this isn't easy when we're bombarded by unhealthy food and drink advertising every day, let alone at a time when feeling particularly vulnerable and physically isolated due to COVID-19 restrictions.

"There's no doubt unhealthy food and drink companies acted quickly to leverage off the pandemic. From encouraging unhealthy stay-at-home behaviours, normalising unhealthy food consumption and employing sneaky marketing tactics - Australians healthy efforts were undermined. It's no wonder we were snacking more.

"The fact remains that two thirds of Australian adults are above a healthy weight, putting them at increased risk of chronic diseases including 13 types of cancer.

"What's more, recent research has suggested excess weight and poor diets are contributing factors to serious illness and death from COVID-19, adding another layer of complexity for concern3," Ms Glassenbury said.

To reduce Australians' risk of developing serious health problems linked to being above a healthy weight, our Obesity Prevention Manager, Kelly Kennington emphasised the need for governments to hold these companies to account.

"With the added pressures of home-schooling and working from home, we know this year has been a challenging one for all of us. These industry tactics are putting people at risk of health impacts that will extend far beyond the life of this pandemic.

"Today's survey results add to a litany of evidence - we must take action on overweight and obesity in Australia. To protect the health of our nation, governments must set higher standards for how companies market and sell their unhealthy products. We now have a real opportunity to put our health above company profits through the upcoming National Obesity Strategy," said Ms Kennington.

For more information

  • We deliver the LiveLighter program, which aims to encourage Australian adults to lead healthier lifestyles - to make changes to what they eat and drink, and to be more active.
  • You can find lots of great tips, resources and information at livelighter.com.au.

 

1LiveLighter®'s annual Shape of Australia survey analysed the health, nutrition and physical activity behaviours of more than 2,000 Australians aged 18-65.
2Collin J; Ralston R; Hill SE, Westerman L (2020) Signalling Virtue, Promoting Harm: Unhealthy commodity industries and COVID-19. NCD Alliance, SPECTRUM.
3Obesity Evidence Hub. Cancer Council Victoria, Melbourne, 2020. Available from: https://bit.ly/353rbl1.

Found in:  News - 2020 | View all news