News Release

When the economy goes down, so does the quality of our diets

Study examining dietary trends during the Great Recession offers lessons for the COVID-19 era

Peer-Reviewed Publication

American Society for Nutrition

Rockville, Maryland (June 7, 2021) -- What did Americans eat during the Great Recession? A new study suggests dietary quality plummeted along with the economy.

According to the study, adults overall ate more refined grains and solid fats and children increased their intake of added sugar during the recession. The impacts of the downturn were especially pronounced in food-insecure households, where individuals significantly reduced their intake of protein and dark green vegetables while increasing total sugars.

"Overall, we found that the Great Recession had a negative impact on dietary behaviors in both adults and children," said Jacqueline Vernarelli, PhD, director of research education and associate professor of public health at Sacred Heart University, the study's lead author. "This adds to a robust body of evidence that economic downturn impacts household income, employment status and subsequent household food security levels."

Emma Turchick, a graduate student in Vernarelli's lab at Sacred Heart University, will present the research at NUTRITION 2021 LIVE ONLINE.

Although the study did not examine impacts from COVID-19, researchers say the findings are likely relevant to today's economic environment.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented increases in food insecurity, and a dramatic increased need for emergency food resources and other types of food assistance," said Vernarelli. "By identifying key intake patterns during the previous recession, we can identify areas that may need intervention now and during the [pandemic] recovery years."

The study used data from a nationally representative sample of over 60,000 U.S. adults and children. Researchers analyzed dietary intakes and household food security before (2005-2006), during (2007-2010) and after (2011-2014) the Great Recession.

Household food security is defined as all members of the household having access to enough food for an active, healthy life at all times. Food insecure households have limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways. People with food insecurity are at greater risk for nutrient insufficiency and chronic diseases.

The study findings suggest that nutritional quality deteriorates as families substitute cheaper foods in place of healthier options. While overall food quantity may not be lower in many food-insecure households, the quality, desirability and variety of the diet is often reduced, according to researchers. The study found that children in households with low food security consumed higher levels of solid fat and added sugars during the recession, taking in 200 calories more per day on average than in the periods before and after the recession.

"Using historical data to understand and anticipate potential nutrient needs and areas of concern may better help public health nutritionists serve communities faced with food insecurity, as well as help inform decisions related to food assistance policy," said Vernarelli. For example, she noted that the findings can help inform efforts to improve access to nutritious foods through programs such as SNAP, WIC and the National School Lunch Program.

Turchick will present this research in an on-demand poster session during NUTRITION 2021 LIVE ONLINE from noon on Monday, June 7 through 5:30 p.m. on Friday, June 10 (abstract; presentation details). The poster includes additional data analyzed after the original abstract was submitted.

Please note that abstracts presented at NUTRITION 2021 LIVE ONLINE were evaluated and selected by a committee of experts but have not generally undergone the same peer review process required for publication in a scientific journal. As such, the findings presented should be considered preliminary until a peer-reviewed publication is available.



NUTRITION 2021 LIVE ONLINE, held June 7-10, 2021 is a dynamic virtual event showcasing new research findings and timely discussions on food and nutrition. Scientific symposia explore hot topics including clinical and translational nutrition, food science and systems, global and public health, population science and cellular and physiological nutrition and metabolism. #NutritionLiveOnline

About the American Society for Nutrition (ASN)

ASN is the preeminent professional organization for nutrition research scientists and clinicians around the world. Founded in 1928, the society brings together the top nutrition researchers, medical practitioners, policy makers and industry leaders to advance our knowledge and application of nutrition. ASN publishes four peer-reviewed journals and provides education and professional development opportunities to advance nutrition research, practice and education.

Find more news briefs and tipsheets at: Watch on-demand sessions, view posters and more by registering for a free pass to attend the virtual meeting.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.