A study published in PLOS ONE shows that despite people’s best intentions to eat less in the New Year, they may actually be taking in more calories during the first three months of the year.
The researchers recruited 207 households to participate in a randomized-controlled trial conducted at two regional-grocery chain locations in upstate New York. Item-level transaction records were tracked over a seven-month period (July 2010–March 2011). The cooperating grocer’s proprietary nutrient-rating system was used to designate “healthy” and “less healthy” items. Calorie data were extracted from online nutritional databases. Expenditures and calories purchased for the holiday period (Thanksgiving–New Year’s), and the post-holiday period (New Year’s–March), were compared to baseline (July–Thanksgiving) amounts.
The researchers found that during the holiday season, household food expenditures increased 15% compared to baseline ($105.74 to $121.83), with 75% of additional expenditures accounted for by “less-healthy” items. Consistent with what one would expect from New Year’s resolutions, sales of healthy foods increased 29.4% ($13.24/week) after the holiday season compared to baseline, and 18.9% ($9.26/week) compared to the holiday period.
Unfortunately, sales of less-healthy foods remained at holiday levels ($72.85/week holiday period vs. $72.52/week post-holiday). Calories purchased each week increased 9.3% (450 calories per serving/week) after the New Year compared to the holiday period, and increased 20.2% (890 calories per serving/week) compared to baseline.
The researchers concluded that despite resolutions to eat more healthfully after New Year’s, consumers may adjust to a new “status quo” of increased less-healthy food purchasing during the holidays, and dubiously fulfill their New Year’s resolutions by spending more on healthy foods. Encouraging consumers to substitute healthy items for less-healthy items may be one way for practitioners and public health officials to help consumers fulfill New Year’s resolutions and reverse holiday weight gain.