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Changes in Consumption

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This chapter outlines how people’s consumption behaviour has altered since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions. Survey respondents were asked how, if at all, their behaviour in relation to each of the following has changed since these restrictions were introduced:

  • The consumption of
    • Alcohol
    • Tobacco
    • Junk food and sweets
    • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Frequency exercising
  • Time spent
    • Watching TV
    • On the Internet

Respondents could answer “Increased”, “Decreased”, “No change” to the above and could also indicate that they did not partake in the behaviour. 

Alcohol

Respondents of the Social Impact of COVID-19 survey were all aged 18 years and over, with over four in five (80.6%) respondents stating they consume alcohol. Of these, 22.2% said that their alcohol consumption had Increased since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions, 17.2% said their consumption had Decreased with 60.6% saying there was No change. The following results pertain to only those that stated they consume alcohol.

The percentage of male and female respondents reporting an increase in their consumption of alcohol since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions were similar, at 20.9% and 23.4% respectively. However, a much higher proportion of male respondents (26.0%) reported a decrease in alcohol consumption compared with females (8.6%). Over half (53.1%) of male respondents reported No change in consumption compared with two thirds (68.0%) of female respondents.

When analysed by age, older respondents reported less change in alcohol consumption behaviour since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions than other age groups. More than three quarters (77.1%) of respondents age 70+ reported No change. Over three in ten respondents in both the 18-34 and 35-44 age groups reported an increase in their alcohol consumption (30.4% and 30.7% respectively). Nearly a quarter (22.9%) of respondents aged 18-34 also reported a decrease in alcohol consumption since the implementation of restrictions.

X-axis labelIncreasedDecreasedNo change
18 to 3430.422.946.7
35 to 4430.714.355
45 to 5418.914.766.4
55 to 6913.21571.7
70+7.415.577.1

Respondents that were labour market inactive (e.g. retired, on home duties, students) prior to and since the COVID-19 crisis reported the least change in alcohol consumption. More than one in three (33.8%) respondents that were unemployed prior to and since COVID-19 crisis reported an increase in alcohol consumption whereas just over one in four (26.2%) respondents employed and currently engaged in work duties said their consumption had Increased.

Analysis by household composition shows that respondents living in households with children had the highest proportion reporting an increase in alcohol consumption (27.3%). Respondents living in households with two or more adults reported the greatest percentage decrease in alcohol consumption (22.2%).

Respondents in rural areas reported less change in their alcohol consumption behaviour when compared with urban respondents. More than one in four (25.7%) respondents living in urban areas stated their alcohol consumption Increased compared with 15.4% in rural areas. More respondents living in urban areas reported a decrease in alcohol consumption (18.6%) than those in rural areas (14.5%).

One third of respondents (33.1%) without access to non-material help reported an increase in alcohol consumption compared with one fifth (20.5%) of respondents with access to non-material help.

In terms of well-being, three out of ten (29.5%) respondents that felt downhearted or depressed at least some of the time in the past 4 weeks reported an increase in alcohol consumption since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions, compared with 22.2% that felt downhearted or depressed a little of the time and 10.5% that felt downhearted or depressed none of the time. Similar changes in alcohol consumption behaviour was reported by those that felt very nervous at least some of the time in the past 4 weeks as 29.3% said that their alcohol consumption Increased, compared to 13.6% of those that felt very nervous none of the time.  Over 30% of respondents that felt lonely at least some of the time in the past 4 weeks reported an increase in alcohol consumption compared with just under two in ten respondents that felt lonely a little or none of the time in the past 4 weeks (18.9% and 19.6% respectively).

X-axis labelIncreasedDecreasedNo change
All/most/some of the time29.515.654.9
A little of the time22.217.959.9
None of the time10.517.971.6

More than four in ten (41.8%) respondents that were very concerned about household stress from confinement reported an increase in alcohol consumption, compared with approximately two in ten respondents that were not at all or somewhat concerned (20.1% and 17.6% respectively).

X-axis labelIncreasedDecreasedNo change
Not at all20.116.363.7
Somewhat17.61963.3
Very41.89.848.3

Tobacco

Over one quarter (26.0%) of survey respondents stated that they consume tobacco.  Of these, 30.5% said their consumption had Increased, 8.6% said it had Decreased and 60.9% said that their tobacco consumption had not changed since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions. The following results relate only to respondents that consume tobacco.

More than one third (34.7%) of female respondents reported that their consumption of tobacco had Increased since COVID-19 restrictions compared with one in four men (26.2%).

X-axis labelIncreasedDecreasedNo change
Male26.210.263.6
Female34.77.158.3

Nearly 9 in 10 (89.4%) of respondents aged 70+ said that their tobacco consumption had not changed since the implementation of restrictions, while less than 10% reported an increase in their tobacco consumption. This was significantly different to respondents in all other age groups, where approximately one in three respondents aged 18-54 Increased tobacco consumption (32.9% for respondents aged 18-34, 33.4% for those aged 35-44 and 37.4% for those aged 45-54).

More than half of respondents (51.1%) that started working from home after the COVID-19 crisis reported an increase in tobacco consumption. The comparable figure for respondents working outside the home is 21.4%.

More than four in ten (41.8%) respondents living on their own reported that their tobacco consumption had Increased. A quarter (25.6%) of respondents living with children also reported an increase while less than one in ten (9.3%) in this category reported a decrease in tobacco consumption.

Of those that consume tobacco, more than half (52.0%) of respondents that felt downhearted or depressed at least some of the time in the past 4 weeks Increased their tobacco consumption since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions. A similar change in tobacco consumption behaviour was seen in respondents that reported either feeling very nervous or lonely at least some of the time in the past 4 weeks where more than four in ten reported an increase in tobacco consumption (44.3% and 41.8% respectively). Comparable figures for respondents that did not feel nervous or lonely in the past 4 weeks were 12.5% and 5.4% respectively. 

Exercise

More than 95% of respondents said they exercise. Of these, 37.1% stated that their frequency of exercising had Increased since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions, 33.2% of respondents said that it had Decreased while 29.8% of respondents reported No change.

Male respondents were relatively evenly split – almost one third (33.0%) said their frequency of exercise had Increased, approximately one third (34.5%) said it had Decreased and just under one third (32.6%) said there was No change since COVID-19 restrictions. More (41.1%) female respondents said their exercise had Increased, 31.9% said it had Decreased and 27.0% reported No change over the same period.

More than half (53.4%) of respondents aged 70+ reported that their frequency of exercising had Decreased since COVID-19 restrictions. Exactly 28.0% of respondents in this age group reported No change in their frequency of exercising while 18.6% reported that it had Increased. Respondents aged 45-54 reported the highest increase with nearly half (49.1%) saying that their frequency of exercise had Increased.

X-axis labelIncreasedDecreasedNo change
18 to 3434.936.428.6
35 to 4440.532.726.8
45 to 5449.126.424.5
55 to 6937.622.939.5
70+18.653.428

Respondents that were employed but not engaged in work duties had the highest level of increase in frequency of exercise (63.3%). Those that are currently employed and working outside the home reported an increase of 33.4%.

Almost four in ten of respondents that rated their own health as very good or good said that their frequency of exercise Increased since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions (39.2% and 39.8% respectively). Less than three in ten (27.1%) respondents that rated their own health as fair/bad/very bad reported an increase in their frequency of exercise over the same period.

Junk Food and Sweets

Of respondents that said they eat junk food and sweets, 45.4% reported an increase, 12.3% reported a decrease and 42.4% reported No change in their consumption of junk food and sweets since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions. 

Female respondents were considerably more likely to increase consumption compared with men (54.3% compared with 35.6%). More than double the proportion of male respondents to females said their consumption of junk food and sweets had Decreased since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions (17.0% versus 7.9%).

X-axis labelIncreasedDecreasedNo change
Male35.61747.4
Female54.37.937.8

Nearly seven in ten (69.0%) respondents aged 18-34 stated that their consumption of junk food and sweets had Increased while only 8.3% in this age group said that it had Decreased. Over three in five (62.2%) respondents aged 70+ said that their consumption of junk food and sweets had not changed at all, 29.5% said that it had Increased and 8.2% said it had Decreased.

Over half (52.3%) of respondents that rated their health as fair/bad/very bad said that their consumption of junk food and sweets had Increased. This proportion was higher than those that rated their health as good (44.1%) and very good (42.9%).

More than half (51.9%) of respondents in households with children reported an increase in the consumption of junk food and sweets since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions. This compares with 42.9% of respondents living in households with two or more adults and 35.6% of respondents living alone.

Those with low scores for well-being indicators were more likely to report an increase in consumption of junk food and sweets. Almost 60% of respondents that felt downhearted or depressed at least some of the time in the previous four weeks reported an increase in their consumption of junk food and sweets, compared to 29.0% of those that felt downhearted or depressed none of the time in the same period. Similarly, almost six in ten of respondents that felt very nervous (57.9%) and lonely (59.6%) at least some of the time in past four weeks reported an increase in junk food and sweets consumption. 

Watching TV

Over 44% of survey respondents that watch television reported that time spent watching TV had Increased since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions. Almost one in ten (9.2%) said it had Decreased while 46.5% indicated No change in time spent watching television.

The percentage of respondents reporting No change in time spent watching television Increased as age increased. Respondents aged 18-34 had the highest (49.8%) proportion reporting increase in TV viewing and the highest proportion reporting a decrease (11.8%) in time spent watching television.

The highest proportion (58.3%) of respondents reporting an increase in television habits were respondents that had become newly labour inactive. These are respondents who were employed in Quarter 1 2020 and who were not employed in April 2020.

More than one in two (55.8%) of respondents that rated their health as fair/bad/very bad said that their time spent watching television Increased since COVID-19 restrictions. This is higher than those with better health where two in five such respondents reported an increase in time spent watching television.

Just under half (49.4%) of respondents living in urban areas stated that the time spent watching television had Increased. The comparable figure for respondents living in rural areas was 33.9%.

Over 61% of persons without access to non-material help reported an increase in time spent watching television compared with 41.9% for those with access to non-material help.

Respondents that had reported either feeling downhearted and depressed, very nervous or lonely at least some of the time in the 4 weeks prior to interview were most likely to have Increased time spent watching television since the introduction of COVID-19 (52.5%, 50.1% and 62.2% respectively).

X-axis labelIncreasedDecreasedNo change
All/most/some of the time62.29.828
A little of the time41.4949.6
None of the time35.7955.3

On the Internet

Nearly 3 out of 5 respondents (59.1%), that use the internet, reported spending more time on the internet since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions. Just under 3% reported time spent on the internet had Decreased and 38.1% said there was No change.

Those in younger age groups reported the highest increase (71.9%) in time spent on the internet compared with respondents of other ages. Respondents aged 70+ reported the smallest increase (41.9%). Over half (55.8%) % of respondents aged 70+ reported No change in time spent on the internet.

X-axis labelIncreasedDecreasedNo change
18 to 3471.94.423.7
35 to 4461.31.637.1
45 to 5453.32.943.8
55 to 6956.11.842.1
70+41.92.355.8

Respondents in employment, not carrying out work duties and those that became labour inactive since COVID-19 crisis reported the largest increase (65.5% and 65.3% respectively) in time spent on the internet. Those that are long term labour market inactive reported the smallest increase (53.5%).

Respondents with low scores for well-being indicators were most likely to report an increase in time spent on the internet.  Over seven in ten respondents that felt downhearted or depressed (71.7%), and lonely (72.8%) at least some of the time in the past four weeks reported an increase in time spent on the internet.

Show Table: Table 4.1 Changes in alcohol consumption since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions by demographic and personal concern behaviours

Show Table: Table 4.2 Changes in tobacco consumption since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions by demographic and personal concern behaviours

Show Table: Table 4.3 Changes in frequency of exercise since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions by demographic and personal concern behaviours

Show Table: Table 4.4 Changes in consumption of junk food and sweets since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions by demographic and personal concern behaviours

Show Table: Table 4.5 Changes in consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions by demographic and personal concern behaviours

Show Table: Table 4.6 Changes in time spent watching television since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions by demographic and personal concern behaviours

Show Table: Table 4.7 Changes in time spent on the internet since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions by demographic and personal concern behaviours

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