Researcher Finds ‘No Bad News’ When It Comes to COVID-19 and Consumer Eating Behaviors | So Good News


The COVID-19 pandemic has been characterized by uncertainty. As public spaces begin to slowly reopen, people must grapple with the risks they are willing to take when shopping in person or eating out.

Rigoberto Lopez, a professor of agriculture and economics at the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, found that one of the best ways to ease people’s anxiety about eating in public is to provide them with information about the current state of COVID-19. spread. Lopez published his findings in Agricultural Economics.

Restaurants around the world were hard hit when the pandemic started as their business depended almost entirely on people to come down and eat. According to a study by the National Restaurant Association, 90,000 restaurants have closed due to the pandemic in the US alone.

“It was very surprising to the system,” says Lopez. “The food chain was one of the hardest hit economic areas of the pandemic.”

Looking at data from Chinese restaurants, Lopez found that those in cities where local laws required compliance with Covid recovered faster than those in areas that did not.

Urban residents who want disease information to be disclosed can use a mobile app to view disease-prone areas in the city.

While the number of Covid cases in the country has also affected the number of restaurants, having access to local disease makes customers feel comfortable going out to eat.

Restaurants in areas where this information was available saw 25%-35% more.

Lopez and colleagues looked at data from 87 restaurants in 10 Chinese cities between December 1, 2019, and March 27, 2020. .

“There is no such thing as a bad story,” Lopez says. “When you have a risk like that, providing information is more comforting to the consumer than leaving the consumer in the dark.”

For this research, Lopez collaborated with her former PhD student, Xiaoou Liu ’09 (CAHNR), who is now a professor at the Renmin University of China School of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development.

Lopez says that while the study only looked at a snapshot of the pandemic, the results provide a broader picture of consumer behavior during any crisis of risk and uncertainty.

“Consumer behavior is the biggest driver of economic growth,” Lopez said. “This problem is bigger than Covid.”

Recently, Lopez published a similar paper in Food Policy looking at the effects of different periods of the COVID-19 pandemic on food.

Lopez and his team analyzed what made nearly a million purchases in China in 2020.

They found that during the active period of the COVID-19 disease, the consumption of sugar, sodium, and fat increased by 0.1 to 1%. But, as the COVID-19 outbreak came under control, people were ordering healthy foods as they learned more about the importance of healthy foods during health crises. The percentage of protein in the food ordered during this period increased by 8% and the amount of fiber increased by 1%. During the same period, the amount of fat, sugar, and sodium decreased by 7 to 16%.

This suggests that learning about the importance of healthy eating can address the psychological eating disorders and economic insecurity that occurred at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in China.

Lopez says the findings show how policymakers can use educational methods to improve public awareness of healthy preventive behaviors, leading to overall health.

“The long-term positive effects of preventive measures can reduce public health disruptions and may outpace the epidemic,” says Lopez.

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