[ The shift toward home cooking and eating at home during the past
months of the pandemic may lead to healthier diets. ]




 Mandy Oaklander 
 April 28, 2020
Time Magazine

	* [https://portside.org/node/22874/printable/print]

 _ The shift toward home cooking and eating at home during the past
months of the pandemic may lead to healthier diets. _ 



The coronavirus pandemic has changed a lot about modern American life:
how we work, socialize, and even how we eat. Dining out is a distant

But nutritionally, people weren’t exactly thriving in pre-pandemic
America. “Before COVID-19 came along, it was increasingly clear that
the diet quality and nutritional status of Americans was terrible,”
says Dr. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. More than 40% of U.S.
adults are obese. After years of declines, heart disease death rates
are on the rise again
[https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr68/nvsr68_05-508.pdf]. So are
rates of obesity-linked cancers
[https://time.com/5517858/cancer-rates-obesity/] among younger people.
Poor diets are the number-one cause of poor health in the U.S.,
according to a 2018 study
[https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2678018] published
in _JAMA_.

Now that Americans are eating most meals at home, might our diets
actually improve?

Researchers are just beginning to study how people are feeding
themselves during the pandemic, and while there is no robust data yet,
the shifts are obvious. “People are eating almost every meal at
home, which is a huge change,” says Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a
cardiologist and dean of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition
Science. By necessity, Americans are cooking more; web traffic to
cooking and recipe websites is surging
In an April survey
of about 1,000 American adults, by the food and beverage
communications firm HUNTER, about half said they were cooking and
baking more now than before the pandemic, and 38% were ordering less
takeout and delivery.

It’s possible that a shift toward home cooking, if it persists,
could eventually lead to reductions in chronic diet-related illnesses,
like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and obesity.
Eating a healthy diet is linked to a longer life
[https://time.com/5761592/how-to-live-longer-and-healthier/], and
“one of the biggest predictors of eating a healthy diet is eating at
home,” Mozaffarian says. His new research
[https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31995199] published in April in
the _Journal of Nutrition_ found that Americans get about 21% of their
calories from restaurants—and most of that food is of poor
nutritional quality. “Restaurant foods tend to be fairly
unhealthy,” he says; there’s a lot of variation depending on the
restaurant and what you order, but typical menu offerings at large
chains, for example, are high in sodium, calories, saturated fat and
sugar. Cooking puts you in control of the ingredients that end up in
your meal.

But he and other experts emphasize that on a population level, any
long-term improvements caused by increased cooking are likely to be
small compared to the bad health effects of this crisis. Besides the
devastating toll of the coronavirus itself, stay-at-home orders limit
physical activity, social isolation likely increases loneliness (which
is linked to heart attacks and stroke
and job loss destroys people’s access to health care.

Unhealthy foods are also still in wide circulation. Flour, sugar
canned soups
and alcohol
exactly staples of a wholesome diet—have all surged in U.S. sales
during the pandemic. Health officials are urging Americans to go
grocery shopping as infrequently as possible, boosting the appeal of
highly processed foods, which last longer than fresh but are loaded
with sugar, fat and salt
[https://time.com/3888102/processed-food-sugar-fat/] and linked to a
higher risk of cancer
[https://time.com/5157885/processed-foods-cancer/] . The stress of the
pandemic may also make people want to bake batches of cookies and load
up on processed snacks, since foods like these can comfort people
[https://time.com/5819224/covid-19-act-like-teeangers/] in scary

Just because a meal is cooked at home does not mean it’s
healthy—and not everyone has the same opportunity to prepare meals
with healthy ingredients, says Julia Wolfson, an assistant professor
of health management and policy at the University of Michigan School
of Public Health. Wolfson is conducting a national survey of
low-income adults to find out how the coronavirus pandemic is
affecting their eating behaviors and food choices. “It matters if
you have access to fresh vegetables and fruit, or if you have the
income to buy perishable foods that are less processed and less
energy-dense than a lot of the more shelf-stable, highly processed
foods.” Her past research has found that the relationship between
cooking more frequently and having a better diet only holds true for
higher income households.

She and others expect the pandemic to widen the nutritional
disparities between wealthier and working-class Americans. More than
26 million people have filed for unemployment since mid-March, and
there is now unmeetable demand at food banks
[https://time.com/5825944/food-banks-coronavirus/] and a spate of
sign-ups for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
benefits, which aren’t always sufficient or easy to obtain even in
the best of times. “For people who are able to work from home and
have kept their jobs and have a stable source of income—and who are
now not eating out as much as they were before and cooking at home
more—we are going to see this relationship with better diet
quality,” Wolfson predicts. But for others who have lost their jobs
or who live in neighborhoods where produce isn’t well stocked or
grocery delivery isn’t offered, “they might be relying even more
than usual on some of these more highly processed foods that are very
shelf-stable and affordable, but not very good for you. That also
creates an opening for fast-food restaurants that are offering a lot
of deals right now to fill that gap for people.”

“It is more expensive to feed a family in this context,” says
Sinikka Elliott, associate professor of sociology at the University of
British Columbia and co-author of _Pressure Cooker: Why Home Cooking
Won’t Solve Our Problems and What We Can Do About It_. With kids out
of school and daycare, families can no longer depend on lunch or
breakfast being covered for their children. And for shoppers on a
budget, it’s not just annoying to substitute out-of-stock
ingredients at the supermarket; it’s costly. “You can’t shop for
sales the way you used to,” Elliott says. “All of these things
make it difficult for families who were already struggling before
this.” While the pandemic gives many people more time at home—a
lack of which is one of the major reasons why people say they don’t
cook more—that, too, is uneven. For essential workers or people
taking care of children, extra time for shopping and cooking may not

So much variability makes it difficult to predict how the coronavirus
pandemic will change how Americans eat, or if these changes will be
permanent. But one thing is becoming clear: “The epidemic is likely
affecting diets, and our diets are likely affecting who dies,” says
Willett. He is now studying how people’s diets are linked to their
outcomes if they get infected with the coronavirus. Research
[https://time.com/5825485/coronavirus-risk-factors/] is finding that
major risk factors for being hospitalized for COVID-19 include
diet-related conditions, like obesity, hypertension and Type 2
diabetes. “If we had a metabolically healthy population, the risk of
hospitalization from COVID could be dramatically lower,” Mozaffarian

“Poor metabolic health is devastating for resilience of the
population,” he adds. “We need a healthier food system through
better policy, not just the random chance disaster of restaurants
being closed.”

	* [https://portside.org/node/22874/printable/print]







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