With the global COVID-19 pandemic still raging across the U.S., it’s no surprise American consumers have largely stopped focusing on their diets.

However, consumers who follow specific dietary lifestyles, such as keto, gluten-free and clean eating, have stayed on track, according to research from The NPD Group.

The New York-based research firm reported adult participation in total diet or nutrition programs dipped to 43.8 percent in April 2020 from 48.3 percent in April 2019. Participation in keto and other specialty diets had not changed over the same period, according to NPD’s Health Aspirations & Behavioral Tracking Service.

“Nutrition programs, like keto and gluten-free, offer a clear roadmap that provide consumers a sense of control,” said Darren Seifer, NPD’s food and beverage industry analyst, in a recent blog post. “On the other hand, indulgent comfort foods provide an escape from increased stress levels and offer a simple splurge that is popular during challenging times. Both paths are coping mechanisms to managing stress and disruption.”

Consumers said disruption to their routines, along with indulgent stress eating, made it more difficult to continue diet and nutrition programs. NPD reported stress eating led to an 8 percent increase in snack food consumption and a 4 percent increase in in-home snack occasions.

The research firm noted consumption of sweets and salty snacks grew, while not surprisingly, consumers also reported less avoidance of sugar, salt and alcohol. Sales of cookware and appliances, such as metal bakeware, stand mixers and waffle irons, rose as home-baking and carb consumption became two popular lockdown pastimes.

The U.S. will likely face pandemic-related social, political and economic challenges long beyond the initial lockdowns, in addition to the health ramifications caused by the coronavirus. But what if it’s not just respiratory, circulatory and neurological damage citizens will be dealing with — what about issues caused by poor diets?

Seifer anticipates that consumers won’t abandon their nutrition programs forever.

“I believe this pause will be temporary because weight loss and overall wellness concerns remain strong, which suggests consumers will go back to nutrition plans when they feel they can incorporate them back into their lives,” he says. “How long the U.S. will deal with COVID-19 and related economic concerns, however, will determine how quickly we return to healthier habits.”

In the meantime, confectionery and snack manufacturers can continue to support consumers in two ways — by providing indulgent treats that comfort and healthy products that offer a variety of benefits.

Here’s to hoping we can soon return to a more-balanced way of life.