Posted: 20 Apr. 2021 8 min. read

Preparing for a potential post-pandemic hangover from health behaviors

By Sarah Thomas, managing director, Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, Deloitte Services LP

Throughout the pandemic, we have been tracking consumers’ attitudes, intentions, and predictions as well as their self-reported anxieties. People’s worries and fears have waxed and waned with the spread of the pandemic and the outlook on mitigation. Even after countries increase rates of vaccination to the degree that our societies start to open further—and as work and social interactions increase—we anticipate a significant health hangover from some of the behaviors we took on during the pandemic.

First, the bad news

Even if anxiety is decreasing from the high levels we’ve seen over the last several months, many people are still concerned about their health, the health of loved ones, and the economy. Many people who kept fairly isolated from the outside world are now wondering what it will feel like to start interacting with other people. What will feel safe? How should they behave?1 For many of us, a year without our usual degree of interaction with a wide group of people—strangers and familiar—could leave us unsure of how to proceed. Consider these pandemic-related health behaviors:

  • Our anxiety and depression levels are higher than normal, particularly among people under the age of 30.2
  • We are smoking more and drinking more.3, 4  
  • We have gained weight. The Stress in America Pandemic survey shows 39% of men gained 37 pounds, and 45% of women gained 22 pounds. Another interesting finding is that 48% of millennials gained 41 pounds while 37% of baby boomers gained 16 pounds.5
  • We are exercising less. While some people embraced online exercise classes on virtual platforms like Peloton,6 many others are spending more time on the couch and are avoiding the gym.

Implications for the future

We may well see diabetes, high blood pressure, and other chronic diseases increase if people are unable to lose the weight they gained, cut back on smoking, and resume exercise. Mental and behavioral health needs—including treatment for addiction—are likely to remain salient public health problems. Despite increasing vaccination rates, we are seeing a persistent group of COVID-19 long haulers facing challenges with ongoing morbidity.

Now, the good news

Deloitte has been conducting biweekly surveys in 15 countries to understand the mindset of the consumer. Each biweekly survey is fielded using an online panel methodology where consumers are invited to complete the questionnaire (translated into local languages) via email. These surveys, designed to be nationally representative of the overall population in each market, poll 1,000 consumers in each country.

Our most recent survey shows a high degree of interest in continuing to increase involvement in what we call the @home economy. This encompasses activities associated with cocooning (e.g., cooking at home, and streaming on TV). Nearly half of respondents (47%) expect to continue such @home economy activities. People report that they expect to do somewhat less in categories we group as “stranger danger.” These include public activities like going to in-person events and flying.

As we look at the findings, there are some responses that are positive from the perspective of healthy behaviors. Cooking at home and buying fresh food, for example, might be consistent with consuming less salt and fewer calories and eating more fruits and vegetables. We also see interest in going to see doctors and dentists coming in at 5% more than before the pandemic.

Our survey results also point toward receding anxiety levels among respondents in most countries. Our latest tracker shows that anxiety is down in most countries. However, anxiety levels are increasing in India, South Africa, and Italy, where new cases continue to grow.


We are optimistic that coming out of the pandemic, many people will pay closer attention to their health and well-being (physical, mental, spiritual, and financial). They might be eager to eat healthy foods, cook at home, wash their hands frequently, and spend time outside. People might also become more sophisticated consumers of information about health and wellness. Some may continue to wear masks in public to avoid spreading or picking up cold and flu viruses.

There will likely be diversity in our responses to recovery unless we collectively act purposefully to emerge healthier as the threat of the pandemic subsides. We should consider race, ethnicity, socioeconomic, and other factors (these will likely vary by country) that could drive worse health outcomes for people who have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Health systems, policymakers, and private business can consider products, services and incentives to build on the positive and address the negative to help us get over our pandemic hangover.


1.  Late-stage pandemic is messing with your brain, The Atlantic, March 8, 2021

2. More under-30 Americans report anxiety, depression during pandemic, US News & World Report, March 26, 2021

3. Smoking has increased during the pandemic, Forbes, March 19, 2021

4. Alcohol consumption has spiked during the pandemic. Could the consequences outlast the coronavirus?, Bostonia, Boston University’s Alumni Magazine, March 25, 2021

5. Unhealthy weight gains, increased drinking reported by Americans coping with pandemic stress, American Psychological Association, March 11, 2021

6. Peloton shares fall despite earnings beat as bike maker warns of ongoing supply constraints, CNBC, November 5, 2020

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