New research using data from the Understanding Society COVID-19 survey by the UK Household Longitudinal Study, explores how health behaviors have changed during the pandemic in Glasgow. There is some concern that the lockdown may have had unintended health consequences and this analysis looked in detail at people's drinking and smoking patterns, as well as their more general mental health. As a longitudinal study, Understanding Society has information about participants health before the coronavirus lockdown and the researchers were able to use this to see what has changed and what has stayed the same during this unusual period.
The researchers compared health behaviors reported in four waves of the main Understanding Society survey, between 2015 and 2019. They also used data from the COVID-19 survey collected in April 2020. They looked at mental health via the General Health Questionnaire, which is a screening tool for psychological distress. The research also considered cigarette smoking, vaping and alcohol consumption.
Increase in psychological distress
There was a significant increase in the number of people reporting psychological distress. In the period 2015-2017 17.6% of people reported psychological distress, rising to 30.6% during the lockdown period in April. The largest deterioration was in people's enjoyment of normal day-today activities, but worsening symptoms were also observed for concentration, sleep, feelings of unhappiness and loss of purpose.
The increase in psyschological distress was most pronounced among people under the age of 45, as well as among the most educated groups. Women were also more affected than men.
Smoking and drinking behaviours
The research also found that binge drinking increased during the lockdown, with 16.2% of people reporting binge drinking in April, compared to 10.8% in 2017-19. The proportion of people drinking more than four times a week also increased from 13.7% in 2017-19 to 22% in 2020. Binge drinking remained stable for younger people, but increased in those aged 25 and older. Binge drinking and more frequent drinking also increased for women, white ethnic groups and those with degree-level education.
In contrast to alcohol consumption, the analysis shows that cigarette smoking decreased during the lockdown, particularly in younger age groups and for men. Vaping also decreased. This seems to have been driven by a decline in lighter smokers.