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Adults using weight-loss app consume less fruit, more red meat during COVID-19 lockdown

All the authors report they are employees of Noom Inc. and receive a salary and stock options from the company. All data from the study were taken from people using Noom for weight loss.

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Adults using the Noom weight-loss app in the U.S. ate fewer fruits and vegetables and more red meat during the first week of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders compared with before the lockdown, according to study data.

Ellen Siobhan Mitchell

“The population we studied, who is trying to adhere to a healthy diet toward weight loss, turned to comfort food during the onset of the pandemic, forsaking fruits and vegetables for red meat and potatoes,” Ellen Siobhan Mitchell, PhD, senior director of academic research at Noom, told Healio. “Older people tended to stick with what they were eating before lockdown, but younger people had radical diet changes showing huge drops in caffeine, salads and take-out food.”

Various healthy and unhealthy foods

Source: Adobe Stock

Mitchell and colleagues analyzed data from U.S. adults using Noom, a digital, health platform that includes an interface for logging food consumption. All participants logged food at least twice during the week of March 5 to 11, 2020, and March 12 to 18, 2020. The week of March 5 corresponded to consumption before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the week of March 12 included consumption data for the first week of the COVID-19 lockdown. Foods were categorized as sweetened drinks, whole grains, high-fat condiments, salty snacks, red meat, lean protein, processed meats, fruits, vegetables, desserts, dairy and caffeinated drinks.

Consumption shifts during lockdown

A total of 381,564 Noom users were included in the analysis (83.4% women; mean age, 47.76 years). Participants reported consuming 9% fewer food items during the first week of the lockdown compared with earlier. Researchers observed a 5% increase in red meat and 4% increase in starchy vegetables during the lockdown. Fruit and vegetable intake decreased 11.6%, consumption of lean poultry declined 13.5%, salad consumption dropped 19% and caffeinated beverage intake fell 26% during the lockdown.

“It appears that people are less interested in snacking and more interested in familiar meals with lots of starches,” Mitchell said. “Caffeine use during the pandemic dropped significantly, which could be associated with losing a morning routine during this new work from home era and not needing a caffeinated pick-me-up. In other words, caffeine isn’t that useful if you’re not commuting or leaving the house much.”

Dietary trends by sex, age group

When consumption was analyzed by sex, a larger proportion of men reported eating red meat (36.5% vs. 29.9%) and processed meat (43.1% vs. 36.2%) during the first week of the lockdown compared with women. A higher percentage of women reported eating fruits during the lockdown (74.1% vs. 70.9%) and desserts (23.2% vs. 20.1%) compared with men.

In analysis of consumption by age group, there was a 5.4% reduction in fruit and 7.3% decrease in vegetable consumption among participants aged 18 to 35 years, whereas adults aged 66 years and older had no change in either food group. Those aged 66 years and older had a higher increase in red meat and starchy vegetable consumption compared with younger age groups. All groups ate less salad, whereas the decrease in caffeinated drinks was greatest in those aged 18 to 35 years.

Researchers also analyzed how well participants adhered to weight-loss guidance by consuming low-calorie density vs. high-calorie density foods. Men were significantly associated with eating more high-calorie density foods compared with women. Participants aged 18 to 35 years, 36 to 45 years, or 46 to 65 years ate less low- and medium-calorie foods during compared with before lockdown, whereas adults aged 66 years and older did not have a change in their low-calorie food consumption and less of a change in consumption of other foods compared with the younger age groups.

Mitchell said researchers would like to eventually analyze a full year’s worth of data to see whether any dietary trends changed or persisted during the pandemic.

For more information:

Ellen Siobhan Mitchell, PhD, can be reached at [email protected]