The influence of COVID-19-related stress on food motivation

Kimberly R. Smith, Elena Jansen, Gita Thapaliya, Anahys H. Aghababian, Liuyi Chen, Jennifer R. Sadler, Susan Carnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The COVID-19 pandemic and public health measures to reduce its transmission have increased stress. Stress is associated with alterations in eating behavior which may be partly driven by effects on food-related motivation. To investigate effects of COVID-related stress on food motivation, we recruited adults (N = 429; 272 F, 157 M) to complete an online survey via Amazon MTurk in May 2020. Current COVID-related stress, retrospective pre-COVID stress, and motivation in relation to individualized preferred foods from five categories (sweet snacks, fruit, savory snacks, vegetables, and fast food) were assessed. Food motivation measures included willingness to wait, willingness to expend low effort [finger taps], willingness to expend high effort [jumping jacks], and willingness to pay for hypothetical delivery of the food item. Food motivation for each food type was assessed using a novel instrument designed for brief assessment of multiple aspects of food motivation across multiple food types. Participants were willing to pay the most for fast food followed by sweet snacks, and willing to wait longer for sweet snacks relative to other food types. While fast food and sweets also generated the most willingness to expend high and low effort, willingness to expend low effort for fruit was similar to that for fast food and sweets, and willingness to expend high effort for fruit was comparable to that for fast food. Participants were least willing to pay or expend low effort for vegetables. Higher COVID-related stress levels were associated with willingness to expend more effort and pay more for food items. These data collected during the pandemic demonstrate that highly processed and sweet foods have high motivating value across multiple measures of motivation, and COVID-related stress increases food motivation across food categories. Interventions to mitigate stress and target the link between stress and overeating may help to limit the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on obesity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105233
StatePublished - Aug 1 2021


  • Appetite
  • COVID-19
  • Food motivation
  • Mental health
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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