You are here

New Year’s Res-Illusions: Food Shopping in the New Year Competes with Healthy Intentions

Weight gain throughout the holiday season and into the New Year has been largely documented. In this study, we looked to answer the question: do the holidays and subsequent New Year’s resolutions play a role in this weight gain?  To answer this question we studied household’s purchase patterns of healthy versus less-healthy foods before and after the New Year.  

During June and July of 2010, participants from 207 households were recruited for a 37-week study in three Western New York grocery stores that use a proprietary health rating system for their products. We analyzed patterns of those who did more than 75% of the household shopping. Each participant was given a specific ID card, which was scanned during every transaction to produce records for analysis. With the data collected, we examined the purchasing behavior of shoppers over the holiday period, and then compared these purchase patterns with patterns before and after the holiday season.

The study found that average household weekly expenditures increased one week prior to Thanksgiving and remained high into the new year. When regression results were compared to baseline levels, households spent an additional $16.09 per week (p, 0.001) on food and beverage items during the holiday season, with $12.11 (p, 0.001) spent on less healthful foods and $3.98 (p, 0.05) spent on healthier items. This means household food expenditures increased by 15% during the holiday season with about 75% of additional expenditures dedicated to less healthful food items.

After the holidays, households spent an additional $25.01 per week compared to the baseline period, spending about the same on less healthy items and more on nutritious items (an increase of $13.24 from the baseline) as compared to the holiday period.

In conclusion, households may resolve to eat more healthfully in the New Year, but do not decrease the amount of unhealthy foods they buy or cut total weekly per-serving calories. They also buy fewer, but more expensive and slightly more calorically-dense healthy items.