ARC Health & Wellness Community

The Association of Retail and Consumer Professionals


As the festive season is here, people often opt to unwind, break free from daily routines and savor the moment. Delicious food is another large part of that. The holiday season is often a period marked by special meals, high-energy dense foods and reduced physical activity, making it a potential contributor to weight gain. Health and wellness professionals can take note of these holiday habits and help consumers reach their specific goals.

Health and wellness professionals play a crucial role in helping individuals achieve their health goals. Understanding the patterns revealed by data, surveys and studies, such as the inclination of some individuals to indulge freely during holidays, the varying concerns about weight gain between genders and the common goal of lifestyle change in the new year, can guide health and wellness professionals in tailoring advice and support. Additionally, insights into generational differences in comfort with holiday eating habits, racial disparities in diet diversity and the digestive health impact of specific holiday foods and drinks provide valuable information for targeted assistance. These professionals can help with preventative measures and culturally sensitive approaches to address the challenges posed by festive periods on health and wellness goals. 

Gender differences 

In an article from Top Nutrition Coaching, a survey of 1,000 Americans revealed insights of people’s eating behaviors during this celebratory period. The study delved into whether individuals monitor their food intake, harbor concerns about weight gain and their aspirations for the upcoming year. A total of 29% of respondents said they don’t consider their food choices at all during the holidays, embracing the freedom to indulge in whatever they desire. Notably, women are 7% more inclined than men to forgo watching their diet during the holidays, with 32% of women acknowledging a lack of concern compared to 25% of men. 

Consequently, men overall exhibit greater dietary mindfulness, according to the survey. When questioned about monitoring their diet during the holidays, 11% more men said “yes” than women. Men are also 5% more likely to adhere to a stringent diet and 6% more prone to consciously choosing healthier foods while occasionally indulging. A majority of people don’t worry about putting on weight during the holidays, as only 29% expressed such concerns, the study said. Women expressed more anxiety about weight gain, with 6% more women than men acknowledging this concern, potentially aligning with their lower likelihood of monitoring their diet. Conversely, 9% more men than women dismissed the notion of gaining weight, possibly aligning with their adherence to stricter dietary practices. 

It’s common for consumers to consider lifestyle changes as they approach the new year and create goals. Nearly half of the respondents, 47%, expressed a desire to alter or enhance their health habits, with 47% aiming to adopt a healthier diet and 41% aspiring to shed excess weight. Among those prioritizing health-related goals, 9% more women aspire to lose weight in the new year compared to men, while 9% more men hope to incorporate gym sessions. While the figures may not be staggering, it’s noteworthy that both men and women intend to quit smoking and drinking, with 13% aspiring to nip the smoking habit in the bud and 5% vowing to abstain from alcohol. 

Generations and racial groups 

Approaching the holiday season, the majority of consumers are content with their holiday eating habits in terms of quantity and quality. However, maintaining a diet during this period appears more challenging for many, particularly among younger generations, while older individuals assert a better ability to stay on track, according to market researcher Ipsos

Overall, half of Americans express confidence in maintaining their diets during the holiday season. Despite overall satisfaction with holiday feasting, millennials stand out as the least comfortable with their eating habits during this period. Around 54% of millennials feel good about the quantity of food consumed, and 57% feel good about the quality, in contrast to baby boomers, where 70% and 77% express satisfaction in these respective categories. Boomers exhibit a positive correlation between their positive perception of holiday eating and the belief in their ability to maintain dietary goals during festivities. A significant 61% of boomers feel they can adhere to their dietary plans during the holidays, while only 38% of millennials share this idea. 

The majority of Americans adhere to diets encompassing all food groups, including meat, dairy, eggs and plant-based foods. Differences emerge across racial lines, with 90% of white people maintaining such diverse diets, compared to 78% of Black Americans and 83% of Latinos. Notably, 18% of Black Americans adopt alternative diets, twice the percentage of white people. 

Food specific 

A survey involving 2,000 U.S. adults has shed light on the widespread concerns Americans harbor about the potential impact of their favorite holiday foods and drinks on their digestive health. Despite 72% eagerly anticipating the delights of the holiday season, a notable 65% acknowledged it as the most challenging period for adhering to their diets, according to an article from the New York Post

Observations reveal a shift in eating habits during the holidays, with 75% of respondents increasing their daily food intake during this season. Notably, 76% reported that changes in their eating habits occur more frequently during the holidays compared to other times of the year. The survey noted that over half (51%) of respondents feel they’ve overindulged often or always during the holidays, leading to reported instances of occasional constipation (56%), indigestion (49%) and acid reflux (45%). 

The study, commissioned by Prunelax, underscored that 93% of respondents experience occasional constipation, with 43% facing it often or all the time. During the holiday season, 70% reported a heightened frequency of occasional constipation, and 69% note an increase while traveling for the holidays. Specific holiday foods, such as turkey (44%), pecan pie (41%) and potatoes (39%), are identified as primary contributors to occasional constipation. Additionally, favorite holiday beverages, including chocolate milk (45%), non-alcoholic eggnog (38%) and hot cocoa (38%), are implicated in digestive discomfort. To mitigate potential digestive issues, 51% of respondents adopted preventive measures, including increasing water intake (53%), taking acid reflux medication (47%) or upping their fiber consumption (45%). Furthermore, 27% turned to naturally-based laxatives. 

Weight gain 

Specific periods, such as the holidays, can be considered in preventative interventions against obesity. This study from the National Library of Medicine investigated the impact of the holiday season on body weight, focusing on the period from the last week of November to the first or second week of January. The report included studies conducted in adults, college students and children, aiming to understand the potential risk of weight gain during this culturally and socially significant time.  

In adults, findings consistently indicated a weight increase during the holiday season, with studies reporting gains ranging from 0.37 kg to 0.9 kg. Notably, participants seeking weight loss and motivated self-monitoring individuals also experienced weight gain, suggesting that the challenges of holiday-related overeating extend to these populations. In contrast, a study on college students showed a temporary weight gain of 0.5 kg post-Thanksgiving, with subsequent loss by January. Only one study on college students showed an effect on body fat, but not on weight during the holiday season. In children, the single identified study did not demonstrate a significant effect on BMI percentile. 

While most of the research originated from the U.S. and U.K., similar weight gain patterns were observed in studies from other countries, including Germany, Japan, Sweden and Spain. Beyond holiday-related weight gain, the review studied the effects of other festive periods on body weight, demonstrating that weight gain during vacations is a global phenomenon. It underscored the importance of considering cultural and environmental factors influencing dietary habits during these periods. 

In conclusion, health and wellness professionals play an important role in understanding and addressing the complex dynamics of holiday consumer eating habits and diets. The festive season, characterized by special meals and indulgence, poses potential challenges to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Gender differences in dietary mindfulness, generational variations in comfort with holiday eating habits and racial disparities in diet diversity underscore the need for tailored interventions. The specific impact of holiday foods and drinks on digestive health, coupled with concerns about weight gain during this period, highlights the importance of proactive measures. Furthermore, the documented increase in body weight during the holidays across different populations emphasizes the significance of preventative interventions against obesity. As health and wellness professionals navigate these nuances, their insights can guide individuals toward achieving and sustaining their health goals during this celebratory time and into the new year. 

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