Omicron’s effect on Americans’ fitness and dieting goals

By: Sarah Marion

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Omicron’s impact on Americans’ fitness and dieting goals

A sneak peek at Q1 2022 reveals Omicron’s impact

The New Year is always a busy time for health-focused brands looking to capitalize on consumers’ New Year’s resolutions. But the pandemic interfered once again, with the Omicron variant sending case numbers through the roof.

As we noted in an earlier post, the number of Americans making New Year’s resolutions is still lower than pre-pandemic, but the resolutions themselves remain the same as ever. The top 3 resolution areas are to eat healthier, get in shape, and lose some weight. Improving stress levels and mental health also make a strong showing.

So how did Omicron affect early 2022?

State of Our Health’s constant and consistent data collection means that we can tell what happened almost as it happens. Let’s take a look at how America fared as their resolutions met the latest reality of the pandemic.

Exercise moves to the back burner

Significantly lower numbers of Americans reported exercising weekly in January and February 2022 compared to previous years. Since the weather is always poor this time of year, we believe that this is likely an effect of Omicron, which interfered with so many people’s lives in ways small and large.

The trend is most pronounced among women, Millennials, and Boomers, but to some extent all demographics had a tough time sticking to fitness routines this year relative to previous ones.

Dieting bounces back

The number of Americans following a diet fell in January and February 2022 relative to previous months, but is still higher than at the same point in 2021. Typically we see exercise and dieting rise and fall together, so their divergence this year may be an effect of the long-term trend of consumers becoming more engaged with nutrition. It may also have been easier for consumers to maintain their diets relative to fitness these past few months.

However, dieting actually follows a seasonal pattern, peaking later in the spring and again in early fall. Even before the pandemic, we rarely see big increases in dieting in January.

Americans kept up with their mindfulness practices during a stressful time

While much about the early 2022 data reflects a stressful time, one bright spot is mindfulness. Regular engagement with mindfulness behaviors (like meditation, gratitude rituals, journaling, or mindful movement) is higher in January and February 2022 than at the same point last year.

Besides coping with stress, mindfulness-engaged consumers often tell us that mindfulness helps them stick to their wellness goals more consistently. They also stress that mindfulness helps them be gentle with themselves and others when life gets complicated and things like exercise or diet need to take a back seat to other needs.

After Omicron’s storm, a silver lining for healthy food and fitness brands

While this is more bad news for the hard-hit in-person fitness industry, there is a silver lining - among those engaged in fitness, gym memberships rose in the new year despite Omicron. The fact that so many kept up their healthy eating and mindfulness routines also speaks to an easier shift back to fitness.

As mentioned previously, dieting as well as exercise actually tend to peak in spring and fall rather than the turn of the year. For this reason, we see sunnier days ahead for in-person fitness and for health-focused companies broadly, as mask mandates recede nationally and consumers get ready to see and be seen again. So if your January promotion didn’t pan out as expected, don’t lose hope. The next few months will likely see a joyful explosion of Americans looking to feel better, look better, and eat better.

For more information about State of Our Health, the source for this data, click here or email us at info@murphyresearch.com.