Diet Changes in L.A. County During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The dietary guidelines given by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) include limiting sugar, sodium, and saturated fat, and eating nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables (USDA, 2021). Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, most adults in Los Angeles (L.A.) County did not meet these guidelines. For example, just 1 in 10 adults (12%) in L.A. County ate five or more daily servings of fruit and vegetables in 2018 (LACHS 2018). Poor diets are an important public health issue because they are a leading risk factor for common, noncommunicable diseases like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Some groups, such as people with low-incomes or who experience food insecurity, are more likely to have an unhealthy diet because they face financial and other barriers to eating healthy foods. The COVID-19 pandemic has likely caused changes in dietary patterns because it disrupted so many parts of daily life. As there were millions of cases in L.A. County (LAC DPH, 2021), ‘safer at home’ orders were implemented, and gyms, restaurants, schools, and workplaces were closed. Many people began working from home, with children who attended school virtually. Past research has shown that major changes in daily routines often lead to changes in what people eat (Brown et al., 2012; Devine et al., 1998).

Research outside of the U.S. has shown that diets changed during COVID-19, and that among people of diverse backgrounds, both unhealthy and healthy diet changes have happened (e.g., Bann et al., 2020; Scarmozzino & Visioli, 2020). This is especially true in places that have been hard hit by the pandemic and have had long lasting stay-at-home orders. L.A. County has been heavily impacted by the pandemic and has a history of unhealthy diet and disease, which may have been made worse by the pandemic. This brief report summarizes changes in diets among L.A. County adults during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In July and October 2020, we collected data about diet and weight change through the Understanding Coronavirus in America tracking survey (UAS, 2021). This is a panel survey of about 1,800 adults who are representative of households in L.A. County. Participants reported on changes to their diet and weight since L.A. County’s stay-at-home orders were issued in March 2020. (See Survey Measures.) The key findings are summarized here.

The research brief can be found on Public Exchange here.