Poorer people with unhealthy lifestyles were most at risk of suffering severe illness or dying after contracting Covid, a study involving more than a quarter of a million people found.
The research, led by the University of Glasgow, is the first to establish a link between deprivation level, lifestyle and Covid risk.
Unhealthy habits such as smoking and drinking to excess were associated with a higher risk of a severe outcome and the risks were highest for those living in the most deprived parts of the UK.
Researchers used a risk score comprised of nine lifestyle factors: smoking status, alcohol intake, physical activity, television viewing time, sleep duration, fruit and vegetable intake, oily fish intake, and red and processed meat intake.
For socio-economic status, the study took account of area-level deprivation, annual household income and maximum education attainment.
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The research looked at 343,850 people with an average age over 60.Of the 343,850 participants with complete data, 707 (0.21%) died and 2,506 (0.76%) had severe illness.
The study found that a higher proportion of participants with the least healthy lifestyle scores died from Covid-19 and had severe illness compared with those with healthier lifestyle scores.
Similarly, there was a higher proportion of participants from more disadvantaged groups who suffered the worst outcomes. The combined influence of an unhealthy lifestyle and living in an area with high deprivation presented the greatest risk.
Compared with those with moderately healthy and most healthy lifestyle scores, participants with the least healthy scores were more likely to be younger, male, from Black, Chinese, Mixed or Other ethnic groups, have lower educational attainment, lower income, live in more deprived areas.
The researchers noted that those living in more deprived areas were more likely to live with ‘unhealthy’ habits but said anyone could benefit from support to reduce the risks from Covid.
It was also aknowledged that those living in more deprived areas were more likely to work in industries where they came into contact with more people increasing the risk of contracting Covid.
Even if people were less deprived, being less healthy had an increased risk of dying of Covid (relative risk of 5.09).
However if they were both less healthy and experiencing high deprivation, the mortality risk was 9.60.
There were similar findings for risk of severe outcomes, but the difference between the two groups was less stark.
It comes as figures showed the number of hospital patients with Covid-19 in Scotland has hit a record-breaking high for the ninth consecutive day.
Data published yesterday showed that 2383 hospital patients have the virus, an increase of 23 compared to the previous day. Of those patients, 20 were receiving intensive care and 39 additional deaths were registered.
Across Scotland, a total of 9,311 new positive cases were confirmed by the Scottish Government in the past 24-hours.
Kate O’Donnell, Professor of Primary Care Research and Development at the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing, said: “We know that the effects of Covid-19 have been worse for economically deprived and disadvantaged groups for a number of reasons; and our research demonstrates additional risks for those in disadvantaged positions who also report unhealthy lifestyle factors – such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and low physical activity.
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“In order to reduce Covid-19 harms in these vulnerable population groups, who are more susceptible to negative outcomes with this disease – and also to mitigate against future pandemics – it’s important that policies and healthy living support are optimised for the people and most disadvantaged groups who need it most.”
Data for the study came from UK Biobank, a biomedical database a research resource containing genetic, lifestyle and health information from half a million UK participants.
The paper, ‘The association between a lifestyle score, socioeconomic status, and COVID-19 outcomes within the UK Biobank cohort,’ is published in BMC Infectious Diseases.