What has happened?
The scars left by Covid-19 on people’s health around the globe are numerous and will take time to heal. One of these was highlighted by a recent global survey, carried out across 30 countries, which found that 31% of the global population gained significant weight during the pandemic1. This finding underscores a crucial aspect of the detrimental impact of lockdowns on human health.
Admittedly, weight gain was not homogeneous across countries. In fact, the share of people having gained weight varied considerably. More than half of people gained weight in Chile and Brazil, while they were only 30% to 40% in Peru, India, Italy, Saudi Arabia, USA, Spain, South Africa and Turkey. Meanwhile, in China and Hong Kong, less than 1 in 10 said that they had gained weight.
According to this study, on average those people who gained weight during the pandemic put on an additional 6.1 kg. The largest weight gain was seen in Saudi Arabia, with an average of 8 kg for the 35% of the population who gained weight, and Mexico, with an average of 8.5 kg for the 34% who gained weight.
Why is it important?
Many medical studies have reported the disastrous side effects of Covid-19 – and the measures to fight against it – on people’s health over the past year. These include sharp rises in depression, lack of sleep, anxiety and stress. In this context, widespread weight gain may seem like a minor issue, but it comes as parts of the human population already face severe obesity and overweight challenges.
Figure 1: Large parts of the global population are overweight
Source: WHO Global Health Observatory.
According to the most recent official figures by the World Health Organization, 1.9 billion adults aged 18 years and over around the world were overweight in 2016, with 650 million suffering from outright obesity2. From this perspective, the increase in consumer focus on health and well-being, in particular when it comes to nutrition, is likely to continue.
In recent years, many consumers have been shifting their preferences towards healthier and more sustainable diets. They have been cutting down on sugar and on fat, and shifting towards fresher food ,away from widespread processed and packaged goods. Also, many consumers have been eating less meat out of environmental concerns and turning towards plant-based alternatives.
What does it mean for investors?
Given the significant health concerns underpinning them, these shifts in food consumption are likely to shape demand, not for the next four or five years, but for the coming decades. For investors, this means long-term investment opportunities in the companies that will help the transition towards healthier and more sustainable food production and consumption.
In this context, investing in the future of food has become a key focus theme of our Global Consumer Trends equity strategy. While many large incumbent players of the consumer-packaged goods market may be facing stronger headwinds, those with the right strategy to become more sustainable and sell healthier food could in fact benefit from shifting consumer preferences.
Meanwhile, we see investment opportunities in segments, such as plant-based food and beverages, meal kits, and food ingredients. While the number of listed companies remains limited for now, a growing number of players are now emerging from the venture-capital ecosystem and may soon become listed companies.
1 Bailey, P., Purcell, S., Calvar, J. and Baverstock, A., 20 January 2021, “The implications of COVID-19 on our diet & health”, Ipsos Mori.
2 See: WHO, 1 April 2020, “Obesity and overweight” Fact sheets.