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Obesity Action Scotland – changing lifestyles under COVID-19

31 Jul 2020

The Programme Lead at Obesity Action Scotland, Lorraine Tulloch, has written for the latest edition of membership magazine “voice”. You can read this below and College members can view the full edition of “voice” by logging into their online dashboard account.

The Programme Lead at Obesity Action Scotland, Lorraine Tulloch, has written for the latest edition of membership magazine “voice”. You can read this below and College members can view the full edition of “voice” by logging into their online dashboard account.

Earlier this year Obesity Action Scotland commissioned Mark Diffley Consultancy and Research to carry out a representative poll among adults in Scotland, to understand the effects of the coronavirus outbreak on lifestyle, especially on diet and physical activity. The polling fieldwork was carried out online between 7 and 13 May 2020. The survey was conducted among 2079 adults (aged 16+) in Scotland.

This research asked people in Scotland how their lifestyles had changed since the coronavirus outbreak began, timing the survey at around seven weeks after the lockdown measures were announced by Scottish government. We were particularly interested in diet and physical activity, as both are important determinants of body weight. We also asked about mental wellbeing.

The results are clear: the coronavirus outbreak has changed the lifestyles of people in Scotland in both positive and negative ways. These changes demonstrate how quickly a modified environment can change people’s behaviour.

Overall, lifestyles of younger people and women seem to have been more affected by the changes brought about by the response to the coronavirus outbreak. These groups are also more concerned about lifestyle changes related to the outbreak of the virus, as well as their implications.

Favourable changes

Since the coronavirus outbreak 43% of people in Scotland are cooking from scratch more, 44% are eating fewer takeaways and 28% are eating fewer ready meals. 21% are eating together as a family more and 29% are eating more fruit and vegetables. Around a third of people in Scotland have also increased the amount of indoor physical activity they do.

Some of these favourable changes are more pronounced in certain groups of people. For example, women, people from younger age groups and those living in urban areas report cooking meals from scratch more than others. Also, women and younger people report increasing their indoor exercise more than others

Unfavourable changes

There are, however, a few areas in which lifestyles among people in Scotland have got worse since the coronavirus outbreak. The majority of people in Scotland (54%) are eating more out of boredom.

Specifically, 49% report eating more cakes and biscuits, 47% eating more confectionery, 38% eating more savoury snacks, and 34% eating more long-shelf-life foods. Over a third of the respondents (34%) admit to drinking more alcohol compared to before the outbreak.

People from younger age groups report making the above unfavourable changes to their diets much more often than older age groups. For example, 65% of people aged 16-24 report eating more confectionery since the outbreak of the virus, while only 34% of those over 65 report such a change.

Similarly, 71% of 16-24-year-olds say they have been eating more out of boredom, compared to 45% of those over 65.

What do people in Scotland think about their lifestyles?

A considerable proportion of people in Scotland think that, since the coronavirus outbreak, important aspects of their lifestyles have worsened. 51% think that their mental wellbeing has worsened, 41% that their physical activity levels have worsened and 35% that their diet has worsened. While for some there has been no change, these aspects have improved only for smaller proportions of people in Scotland.

The respondents also tend to think that the diets of people in their families are a little worse (27% worse and 21% better). However, they think that physical activity levels of people from their families have not changed.

Concern about lifestyle

The majority of people are concerned to some degree about their body weight (63%), mental wellbeing (56%), physical activity (53%) and diet (51%).


It has been suggested that the outbreak of coronavirus and the resulting changes to the way we live may cause increases in weight, if they last for a longer period of time. The current survey shows that people in Scotland have been eating more unhealthy foods since the beginning of the outbreak.

Additionally, more people think that their diet, mental wellbeing and physical activity have got worse, rather than better. The survey also shows that the majority are concerned about their body weight. These findings suggest that some weight gain in the Scottish population may be expected.

A few favourable changes related to food culture are reported: people have been cooking from scratch more, eating together as a family more and eating fewer takeaways and ready meals. These may be related to the dramatic changes within the out of home sector, namely closed restaurants, cafes, bars etc. While it is clear that these positive changes do not outweigh the negative impact of the coronavirus outbreak, it is important to nurture the new good habits as we move out of lockdown, and the out of home sector starts operating again.

The urgency to prevent obesity and reduce obesity levels in Scotland has never been so high. The current survey indicates that people in Scotland have had worse diet since the coronavirus outbreak and we know that undernourished people have weaker immune systems and may be at greater risk of severe illness due to the virus.

The response to COVID-19 needs to include actions to help people in Scotland eat healthier diets. The economic recovery from COVID-19 needs to ensure obesity prevention is at its heart. Such progress would not only help to address obesity and other diet related diseases, but also is key for improving immunity and increasing resilience to COVID-19 or other communicable diseases.

The Scottish government published their Diet and Healthy Weight Delivery Plan in 2018 with the aim to improve the health of people in Scotland. The outbreak of coronavirus has highlighted how important healthy weight is. Therefore, the existing plan should be adapted to the current situation and integrated into the COVID-19 response. It is crucial that both treatment and prevention policies for obesity and other dietrelated diseases are a key part of our recovery.

Category: Wellbeing

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