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. So are rates of obesity-linked cancers among younger people. Poor diets are the number-one cause of poor health in the U.S., according to a 2018 study published in JAMA.
Now that Americans are eating most meals at home, might our diets actually improve?
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.
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