Neighbourhood socio-economic deprivation is strongly related to health-risk behaviours, which are predictors of overall health and mortality. During the Covid-19 pandemic, individuals have been forced to spend more time within their residential areas, which might have had an effect on health-risk behaviours.
We assess the consequences of living in a more or less deprived neighbourhood during the pandemic on individual behavioural changes in four health-related outcomes: smoking, drinking, physical activity and healthy eating. We hypothesise that the pandemic and related lock-downs had negative effects on health-related behaviours, but that this negative effect had been stronger for people living in more deprived areas. We additionally explore sex and ethnicity as sources of heterogeneity in these effects.
We use data from four nationally representative cohort studies in England. We perform longitudinal individual and neighbourhood fixed effects estimations focusing on comparing the pre-pandemic period with the first lockdown (May 2020) period and up to one year after the outbreak of the pandemic (March 2021).
During the first lockdown, as compared to pre-pandemic levels, on average, people smoked more, drunk more and did more physical activity. However, compared to people in less deprived neighbourhoods, people living in more deprived areas showed a smaller increase in their levels of physical activity, consumed less fruit and vegetables and increased the number of cigarettes smoked. We additionally find that the combined effect of Covid-19 and area deprivation varies significantly by both sex and ethnicity.
Results add to evidence on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns on health-risk behaviours, highlighting the relative contribution of the neighbourhood environment and individual characteristics. We argue that reducing levels of neighbourhood deprivation may contribute to positively influence behaviours, especially for some sub-groups of the population, leading to a reduction of social inequalities in health.