UCL Health


Economic hardship, insecurity, mental health and nutritional choices

This project will analyse how households’ nutritional choices were affected by the furlough scheme and the shift to home working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

30 November 2021


Major economic shocks, such as recessions, can substantially disrupt households’ economic and social circumstances, with potentially large impacts on their access to nutritious food and other healthy products.

At an aggregate level, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a substantial increase in calories and a worsening of diet quality in many households.

At the same time, the pandemic has driven a marked increase in food insecurity, particularly among households with children. 


We aim to analyse how households’ nutritional choices were affected by the furlough scheme and the shift to home working during the COVID-19 pandemic. Compared to the economic hardship caused by unemployment, these two features created a different balance between the impacts on financial well-being, mental health, economic insecurity and time use; we will analyse the extent to which these different factors mediated the overall impact of furlough and home working on households’ nutritional choices. 


We will use Understanding Society (USoc) and the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS). We focus on two groups of households: those who were exposed to economic uncertainty (with at least one household member furloughed), and those who were asked to work from home.

We will compare these groups to those who continued to work as usual to assess the impact of economic uncertainty on three outcomes:

  • measures of food insecurity (going hungry, lacking access to nutritious food, using food banks),
  • diet quality (number of servings of fruit and vegetables),
  • purchasing behaviour (amount spent at the supermarket).

We will also assess how the impact of furlough and home working differed across groups, including those on high and low incomes pre-pandemic; families with dependent children and adult-only households; and, sample size permitting, families in different regions of the UK and those from different ethnic backgrounds. 


November 2022 – December 2023


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The NIHR Policy Research Unit in Healthy Weight is part of the NIHR and hosted by UCL.