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Behaviour change interventions investment needed to reduce health inequalities

17 June 2021

More investment is needed to introduce new behaviour change interventions in to public health and mental wellbeing services to reduce health inequalities which have increased because of Covid-19.

This is one of the findings of ‘Behavioural science investment needed to mitigate long-term health impacts of Covid-19’, a new British Psychological Society briefing paper published today.

Dr Emily McBride, University College London and also the Policy Lead for the BPS Division of Health Committee, said:

“Covid-19 has led to negative changes in everyday health behaviours for many people (e.g., drinking more alcohol, lack of exercise, food consumed). It has also stopped some people, particularly from disadvantaged groups, accessing important health and preventative services, such as cancer screening. 

"This is potentially a serious problem if these unhealthy behaviours and barriers to access continue in the long-term. Prompt action is needed to mitigate the consequences and reduce health and social inequalities.”

Citing a recent Government report saying there is a high likelihood of long-term health effects, and that these would impact disadvantaged groups in the UK the most, the briefing paper sets out new health and policy priorities that can counter this trend. These reflect ongoing shifts in people’s health behaviours and key areas of focus. 

The recommended long-term health and policy priorities centre around:

  • Covid-19 vaccination uptake
  • Eating behaviour
  • Physical activity
  • Sedentary behaviour (e.g. sitting)
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Substance use
  • Tobacco smoking
  • Sleep hygiene
  • Health service use (e.g. cancer screening, GP attendance)

Dr McBride concluded:

“We strongly recommend that long-term disease prevention strategies should be prioritised now that most of the UK have been living under restrictions for so long, and the Covid-19 vaccine is rolling out.”

“We’d suggest delivering and adapting evidence-based interventions which promote and enable healthy behaviours in high-risk communities. Also, providing additional support and opportunities for people to easily access health services. This would help offset the long-term indirect damage caused by the pandemic.”

Professor Angel Chater, University of Bedfordshire and Chair of the BPS Division of Health Psychology and who leads the BPS Covid-19 Behavioural Science and Disease Prevention Taskforce where this briefing was developed added:

“Health psychologists have the expertise and skills to develop successful behaviour change strategies at a local, national and global level, that promote health behaviours and reduce inequalities in  health. Now is a prime opportunity for investment in the health psychology workforce to build back better and co-create public health programmes and health services that are psychologically and behaviourally-informed to optimise their success.”

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