Unintended COVID consequences: Victorians snacked more, Aussies gained weight


A new LiveLighter® survey[1] has revealed 37 per cent of Australians reported gaining weight between February and July this year – a time when most Australian states were under some form of COVID-19 restrictions.

While around a third of Australians reported an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption (30 and 34 per cent respectively), there was a concurrent increase in consumption of unhealthy products, particularly among younger adults (18-24 years), parents and those under financial stress since the implementation of COVID-19 restrictions. In Victoria, almost half (48 per cent) reported an increase in snacking.

LiveLighter®’s annual Shape of Australia survey analysed responses from more than 2,000 Australians aged 18-65 regarding how Australians have changed a number of lifestyle behaviours since February 2020.

National findings of the survey included:

  • 37 per cent said they had gained weight.
  • 72 per cent were concerned about their weight, 49 per cent were trying to lose weight.
  • 41 per cent are snacking more throughout the day compared to before COVID-19.
  • 26 per cent have increased ordering food directly from a local restaurant or café and 24 per cent have increased ordering takeaway from an online delivery service.
  • Younger adults, parents and those under financial stress due to COVID-19 were more likely to be snacking more, eating more fast food and drinking more alcohol (compared to older adults, non-parents and those with no financial stress).

Compared to respondents from other states across Australia, Victorians were more likely to report the following health behaviour changes since the implementation of COVID-19 restrictions:

  • More likely to increase the amount of time they spent using at least one type of screen (88 per cent).
  • More likely to have a significant change in exercise, with 32 per cent saying they were exercising more and 38 per cent exercising less.
  • More likely to decrease their vegetable consumption, double that of other states (10 per cent compared to 5 per cent)
  • 54 per cent experienced at least one type of personal stressor, with 25 per cent experiencing loneliness
  • 48 per cent were snacking more, almost 10 per cent more than in other states across Australia

LiveLighter® Campaign Manager and dietitian, Emma Glassenbury, said while the survey highlights that some behaviours changed for the better, it’s important to consider the way harmful industries capitalised on the pandemic, marketing their unhealthy foods, sugary drinks and alcohol[2], especially during times of increased screen usage.

“While most of us try to stick to a healthy diet as much as possible, this isn’t easy when we’re bombarded by unhealthy food and drink advertising every day, let alone at a time when feeling particularly vulnerable and physically isolated due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“There’s no doubt unhealthy food and drink companies acted quickly to leverage off the pandemic. From encouraging unhealthy stay-at-home behaviours, normalising unhealthy food consumption and employing sneaky marketing tactics– it’s no wonder Victorians’ healthy efforts were undermined.

“The fact remains that two-thirds of adults and one in four children are above a healthy weight in Victoria, putting them at increased risk of chronic diseases including 13 types of cancer. What’s more, recent research has suggested excess weight and poor diets are contributing factors to serious illness and death from COVID-19, adding another layer of complexity for concern [3],” Ms Glassenbury said.

To reduce Australians’ risk of developing serious health problems linked to being above a healthy weight, Cancer Council WA’s Obesity Prevention Manager, Kelly Kennington, emphasised the need for governments to hold these companies to account.

“With the added pressures of home-schooling and working from home, we know this year has been a challenging one for all of us.  These industry tactics are putting people at risk of health impacts that will extend far beyond the life of this pandemic.

“Today’s survey results add to a litany of evidence – we must take action on overweight and obesity in Australia. To protect the health of our nation, governments must set higher standards for how companies market and sell their unhealthy products. We now have a real opportunity to put our health above company profits through the upcoming National Obesity Strategy,” said Ms Kennington.

[1] LiveLighte®r’s annual Shape of Australia survey analysed the health, nutrition and physical activity behaviours of more than 2,000 Australians aged 18-65.

[2] Collin J; Ralston R; Hill SE, Westerman L (2020) Signalling Virtue, Promoting Harm: Unhealthy commodity industries and COVID-19. NCD Alliance, SPECTRUM

[3] Obesity Evidence Hub. Cancer Council Victoria, Melbourne, 2020. Available from: https://bit.ly/353rbl1