US adults moved to healthier habits during pandemic

New research has found that the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic saw a change in the way that US citizens approached their health with a significant drop in unhealthy behaviour.

Xuesong Han, of the American Cancer Society, and her colleagues used data from the nationwide, population-based Behavioural Risk Factor Surveillance System, an annual household telephone survey, to examine changes in multiple health-related measures in 2020 among cancer survivors, comparing them with adults without a history of cancer.

Their research found that during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the proportion of working-aged US adults without health insurance did not change despite increases in unemployment, and the prevalence of unhealthy behaviours decreased.

Cancer survivors often have high health care needs and may be vulnerable to the effects of economic and health care disruptions, such as those that occurred during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the team assessed health insurance coverage, access to care, employment, health behaviours, and self-reported health.

Among adults aged 18–64 years, the uninsured rate did not change significantly in 2020 despite increases in unemployment. The prevalence of unhealthy behaviours, such as insufficient sleep and smoking, decreased in 2020, and self-rated health improved, regardless of cancer history. Declines in smoking were greater among cancer survivors than among adults without a cancer history.

“Our findings suggest that the pandemic may have motivated people to adopt certain healthier behaviours, and national and regional policy responses to the pandemic regarding insurance coverage, unemployment benefits, and financial assistance may have contributed to the observed positive changes,” said Han. “As policies related to the public health emergency expire, ongoing monitoring of longer-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer survivorship is warranted.”