Objective: How do the holidays--and the possible New Year's resolutions that follow--influence a household's purchase patterns of healthier foods versus less healthy foods? This has important implications for both holiday food shopping and post-holiday shopping.
Methods: 207 households were recruited 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 to 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.
Results: During the holiday season, household food expenditures increased 15% compared to baseline ($105.74 to $121.83; p<0.001), 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.
Conclusions: 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.