THE GUARDIAN 🔵 UK Covid takeaway habits endure as fast food calorie intake remains high – Shango Media
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THE GUARDIAN 🔵 UK Covid takeaway habits endure as fast food calorie intake remains high

Delivery app riders pedalling through cities and tailbacks at drive-throughs were familiar signs of Britain’s hunger for takeaway food at the peak of the Covid pandemic. Now a study suggests it became an enduring habit.

After a boom in orders on Deliveroo, Just Eat and other platforms by locked-down consumers, research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) suggests the popularity of takeaways, meal deliveries and food-on-the-go bought from retailer such as sandwiches and crisps has remained above pre-pandemic levels after the removal of Covid restrictions.

Analysing data on shopping habits from thousands of consumers, the thinktank said calorie consumption from takeaway food grew by more than 50% during the height of the pandemic – and had stayed high thereafter, as households continued to opt for a night in front of the TV instead of a meal at restaurant or pub.

Highlighting a big shift in the country’s diet and sources of nutrition, the IFS said a legacy of the Covid lockdowns could include long-term effects on health and weight.

The study, which was funded by the Obesity Policy Research Unit at University College London, estimated that before the pandemic, the average UK adult consumed about 270 calories a week from takeaways. This increased to 395 calories a week during the first lockdown in 2020, when restaurants, pubs and cafes were forced to close as the pandemic spread.

While the reopening of hospitality later in the year fuelled a decline in takeaway consumption, levels still remained higher than before the pandemic – even while the government’s “eat out to help out” scheme was in place.

During the third national lockdown in England in 2021, calorie consumption from takeaways ballooned further to an average of 470 calories a week as the country adapted to living with the pandemic and more restaurants and pubs switched to accommodate takeaway orders.

However, despite the easing of restrictions, these higher levels endured after the widespread reopening of hospitality venues, at about 400 calories a week by early 2022 – 50% above pre-pandemic levels.

The researchers said they had only been able to examine data up to the first quarter of 2022 , before the cost of living crisis. This meaning it is not entirely clear whether the UK’s takeaway habit survived the sharpest jump in food prices since the 1970s. However, the initial findings suggest a marked shift.

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The study also found the size of households’ food shopping baskets increased at the height of the pandemic in 2020, but then largely returned to normal. Overall calorie purchases had returned to 2019 levels by 2022, suggesting that the increase in takeaways has come at the expense of coffee shops, pubs and restaurants.

Andrew McKendrick, a research economist at IFS, said: “Lockdowns and closures of hospitality left a bigger role for consumption of food at home and for takeaways. But, by the start of 2022, most of these changes had been reversed: households had largely gone back to purchasing as much as they did in 2019.

“The pandemic did leave one legacy, though, in the much-increased use of takeaways.”

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