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K-State Research and Extension
123 Umberger Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506-3401

June 23, 2020

Study Paints Picture of Americans’ Changing Food Habits, Health Behaviors

Submitted by Pat Melgares

A recent study shows that many of Americans’ health and food behaviors have changed for the better as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but a Kansas State University food safety specialist says it will take time to figure out which of those will actually stick.

Karen Blakeslee said that when people were told to stay at home to curb the spread of the virus, it meant more people were cooking and eating at home.

“The fact that more meals were being consumed at home should benefit overall health and family relationships,” said Blakeslee, who is coordinator of the university’s Rapid Response Center for food safety.

Earlier this month, the International Food Information Council released the results of its 2020 Food and Health Survey in which it polled 1,011 American consumers between the ages of 18-80 on their perceptions, beliefs and behaviors around food and food purchasing decisions.

This is the 15th year that the group has conducted the survey, which was done between April 8-16 – smack dab in the middle of one of the deadliest and most life-disrupting pandemics in the world’s history.

Nonetheless, the survey’s results reflect Americans’ continued awareness of food safety principles and interest in healthy behaviors, Blakeslee said.

“Two examples of positive change are more people are washing fruits and vegetables and more are eating a healthier diet,” she said. “Nearly 6 in 10 respondents said they are putting more emphasis on health than they did 10 years ago. One reason is they are eating smaller portions of food.”

Blakeslee noted that the pandemic made more Americans aware of the need to routinely wash their hands, something that has always been important for food safety and general health. “I hope that emphasis of how important hand washing is continues,” she said, “because it can prevent a variety of illnesses that are foodborne and health related.”

Similar to past years, the 2020 survey showed that 67% of Americans are very confident or somewhat confident in the U.S. food supply. Blakeslee said one key is that “as far as we know, neither food nor food packaging has been implicated in transmitting COVID-19.”

“This reiterates the fact that safe food handling practices are important at all levels, from farm to table,” she said.

Some other key findings from the International Food Information Council’s 2020 survey include:

More than half of respondents said healthfulness matters more to them now than it did 10 years ago.

The number of people following a specific diet or eating pattern is 43% -- up from 38% in 2019.

Forty-one percent of those surveyed said they are familiar with the government’s dietary guidelines, up from 23% in 2010.

Nearly 1 in 5 Americans are using a health monitoring device or app, and 66% of those said it has led them to make health changes in their life.

Consumption of protein from plant sources and plant-based meat and dairy alternatives has increased in the past year – 28% in 2020 compared to 24% in 2019.

There is a slight drop in the number of Americans trying to limit or avoid sugars. In 2020, that number is at 74%, compared to 80% in 2019.

Specific to COVID-19, 85% of respondents said they have altered their food habits as a result of the pandemic. As expected, in-person grocery shopping is down and online shopping is up, but consumers’ overall shopping patterns have not changed drastically.

The full report is available online.

Blakeslee publishes a monthly newsletter that addresses many current food issues. It’s available at https://www.rrc.k-state.edu/newsletter/index.html.