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People drank more and smoked less in lockdown, research finds

By Lucinda Cameron, PA Scotland

People drank more alcohol but smoked less during lockdown, according to new research.

The study found the proportion of people drinking four or more times per week increased, as did binge-drinking.

The research, based on data from more than 27,000 people, also found the number of people feeling psychological distress increased to almost a third during the first month of lockdown, with women and younger people particularly affected.

Researchers suggest effective measures are needed to mitigate adverse impacts on health such as increased drinking and psychological distress during lockdowns.

The study, led by the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing, found binge drinking increased from 10.8% in 2017-19 to 16.2% in April 2020, while the proportion of people who reported drinking four or more times a week rose from 13.7% to 22%.

Binge-drinking remained stable in the youngest age group, but increased in those aged 25 and over and rose more among women, white ethnic groups and those with degree-level education.

However, the proportion of people who reported consuming five or more drinks during a typical day when drinking decreased from 13.6% to 5.6% during lockdown, most evidently in the youngest age group.

Researchers found cigarette smoking also decreased during lockdown, from 15.1% in 2017-19 to 12.1% in April this year, with the decrease most apparent in the younger age groups and among men.

Dr Claire Niedzwiedz, from the university’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing, said: “Understanding the health impacts of lockdown is important, as further periods of physical distancing are likely to be necessary in many countries for some time, especially as the risk of further waves of infection remains.

“These impacts may disproportionately affect specific population subgroups, with concerns that young people, women and disadvantaged groups may be at greater risk.

“The increases in psychological distress and alcohol use in the UK highlight the need to consider how the potential health harms associated with lockdown measures can be mitigated, especially for those who are most at risk.”

The study found psychological distress increased over time from 19.4% in 2017-19 to 30.6% in April this year during the lockdown, which started on March 23.

This increase was most pronounced among people aged under 45 years and among women, where psychological distress rose from 23% to 36.8%.

Asian minority ethnic groups also experienced a large increase in psychological distress, from 18.7% to 34.9% over the same period.

Researchers used pre-pandemic data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study, a nationally representative longitudinal household panel study based on a sample of UK households, and collected an additional wave of data via an online survey during lockdown between April 24 and 30 2020.

The study is published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

The paper was funded by the Medical Research Council, the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office and Wellcome Trust.

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