Healthy Living During the Pandemic and Beyond: An AARP – AARP

For adults ages 50-plus the impact of the pandemic has been tough, but most are committed to regaining control.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an adverse effect on many different levels, whether they be economic, social, or emotional. A recent study by AARP goes one step further and focuses on the pandemic’s impact on maintaining a healthy lifestyle for adults ages 50-plus. Overall, among adults ages 50-plus, nearly half (45%) say their ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle over the past year was more difficult. This difficulty in maintaining a healthy lifestyle is consistent across younger and older adults.

Regaining Control Through Diet

One key component of maintaining a healthy lifestyle is diet. Across age groups, about half (48%) of adults ages 50-plus say their eating habits have not changed since the start of the pandemic. Further, one-third (32%) of older adults say they eat a little more or more healthy now than before the pandemic. 

Looking at diet more closely, the survey asked respondents to indicate how many daily servings they had of each of the following food groups: vegetables, grain, protein, dairy, and fruit. We find one fifth of adults ages 50-plus say they are eating less healthily today than at the start of the pandemic, even among those with the highest consumption of the recommended food group servings.

To further evaluate the impact of the pandemic on eating habits, the survey asked how eating habits changed for three less-healthy food groups: sweet snacks, salty snacks, and highly processed foods. Overall, more than a quarter (29%) of adults ages 50-plus say that in the past year they were eating more sweet snacks, while a fifth admitted that their diet had changed by eating more salty snacks (20%) and/or highly processed foods (18%). Top reasons cited for eating more snacks and processed foods were spending more time at home (57%) and watching TV/streaming (55%). 

Regardless of which factors drive increased consumption during the height of the pandemic, more than half (55%) of these adults ages 50-plus are very concerned about their change in diet and want to make adjustments. One key bright spot from the survey is the commitment to new activities aimed at regaining a healthy lifestyle, especially changes in diet, as the vast majority are intent on maintaining these modifications a year from now.


This survey was conducted by the nonpartisan and objective research organization NORC at the University of Chicago on behalf of AARP. For this national survey, data were collected using the AmeriSpeak Panel. AmeriSpeak, the probability-based panel of NORC, is designed to be representative of the U.S. household population.

A total sample of 1,903 adults with multicultural oversamples of African Americans/Blacks (462 total) and Hispanics/Latinos (446 total) were surveyed online and by telephone between April 27, 2021 and May 4, 2021. A portion of the multicultural samples came from the national survey sample. The survey was conducted in English and Spanish.

For more information, please contact Cheryl Lampkin at For media inquiries, contact External Relations at

Suggested citation:

Lampkin, Cheryl. 2021 Healthy Living During the Pandemic and Beyond: An AARP Healthy Living Survey of Adults Ages 50 and Older. Washington, DC: AARP Research, August 2021.