What Australia’s Health Panel said about vegetables and food waste - September 2022

Early in 2022, Australia’s Health Panel were surveyed about the extent to which COVID-19 had impacted on their vegetable consumption and food waste. 151 panellists participated, of whom 81% identified as female. A minority (18%) of respondents were under 50 years old. Panellists commonly reported that the COVID-19 pandemic had negatively impacted both their physical and mental health. When asked if their eating habits had been affected during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • around half (45%) of respondents reported that there had been no change to their eating habits 
  • one third (34%) reported their habits had become less healthy, whilst
  • the remaining 21% reported developing healthier eating habits during the pandemic.

Some panellists reported snacking more often during the pandemic, due to factors such as stress and anxiety or the ability to graze whilst working from home. Overall, the effects of COVID-19 on vegetable consumption appeared to have been minimal. When those who were eating more vegetables were asked why, reasons included:

  • A decision to eat more healthily due to a change in their health status or that of a loved one.
  • More time at home, that could be spent preparing home cooked meals, with less need to ‘eat out’ or eat unhealthy meals.
  • Personal or social changes that led to increased access to vegetables, such as joining a community garden or going to a local farmers' market.

Those who had eaten fewer vegetables reported:

  • Rising prices, both of vegetables and general living costs.
  • Changes to life circumstances that impacted home cooking or food choices, such as children moving out, panellists living alone and/or the death of a family member.
  • Reduced access to vegetables, for example losing access to a vegetable garden or shopping less frequently for fresh food.
  • A perceived reduction in the quality of vegetables available.

The panellists were supportive of a range of proposed initiatives to increase vegetable consumption, including efforts to improve the affordability of fresh food, improved labelling around sourcing, reduced pesticide usage and access to an improved range and better quality of vegetables. Panellists were also supportive of measures to reduce wastage and improve sustainability, for example by reducing packaging. This support applied not only to vegetables but also across the wider food system. That said, consumers generally reported that their own household waste was minimal and that COVID-19 had reduced their food wastage. 

Survey findings will inform CHF in developing policy recommendations relating to a broad range of health behaviours including diet, nutrition and exercise.