Two years of lockdowns and working from home has made quite a lot of people healthier, according to data from Woolworths Group’s digital wellness initiative HealthyLife. In a new report combining the findings of a national survey with data on how people's purchases at Woolworths supermarkets differed between 2019 and 2021, HealthyLife found that quite a number of Australians are eating more home-cooked food (41%), eating more vegetables (30%), and eating less junk food (47%).
Survey respondents attributed this to WFH, saying that the time freed up by not having to commute can be ploughed back into cooking for themselves, which in turn leads to greater awareness of what's going into their meals.
However, the purchase data indicates that people are still buying the same proportions of healthy vs unhealthy foods that they did pre-pandemic - suggesting that either there is an equally large group of workers who are eating less vegetables and more junk food, or that the objective increase in healthy eating is actually quite small.
At the same time, the findings indicated that 33% of Australians are also using the time freed up by WFH to exercise more, with 28% having bought their own gym equipment (and presumably used it) within the last 24 months. That extra time may be a significant factor given that lack of time is the greatest inhibitor to exercise, with 26% of respondents ranking it above work (17%) as an obstacle.
However, the survey also underscored the challenges that WFH and lockdowns, with the associated lack of socialisation and the constant worry about the pandemic, pose to mental well-being. Even though 25% of respondents indicated that their mental health has improved, an equal number replied that being cooped up at home has made them feel worse mentally and emotionally, and many said that anxiety was causing them to sleep poorly.
Ideally, the improvements that people made to their lifestyles will continue even now that the pandemic is being brought under control, said HealthyLife Chief Health Officer Simone Austin.
"COVID-19 disrupted our lives and fast-tracked health innovations. Now we need to apply a similar sense of urgency to other areas of health," she commented. "The good news is that we can help turn the interest in establishing long-term healthy habits into positive lifestyle changes."