The UK Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and diet, physical activity, and sleep during the COVID-19 pandemic: evidence from eight longitudinal population surveys

Wielgoszewska, B. et al. (2022) The UK Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and diet, physical activity, and sleep during the COVID-19 pandemic: evidence from eight longitudinal population surveys. BMC Medicine, 20, 147. (doi: 10.1186/s12916-022-02343-y) (PMID:35387639) (PMCID:PMC8984671)

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Background: In March 2020, the UK implemented the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough) to minimise job losses. Our aim was to investigate associations between furlough and diet, physical activity, and sleep during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: We analysed data on 25,092 participants aged 16–66 years from eight UK longitudinal studies. Changes in employment, including being furloughed, were based on employment status before and during the first lockdown. Health behaviours included fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity, and sleep. Study-specific estimates obtained using modified Poisson regression, adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics and pre-pandemic health and health behaviours, were statistically pooled using random effects meta-analysis. Associations were also stratified by sex, age, and education. Results: Across studies, between 8 and 25% of participants were furloughed. Compared to those who remained working, furloughed workers were slightly less likely to be physically inactive (RR = 0.85; [95% CI 0.75–0.97]; I 2 = 59%) and did not differ overall with respect to low fruit and vegetable consumption or atypical sleep, although findings for sleep were heterogenous (I 2 = 85%). In stratified analyses, furlough was associated with lower fruit and vegetable consumption among males (RR = 1.11; [1.01–1.22]; I 2 = 0%) but not females (RR = 0.84; [0.68–1.04]; I 2 = 65%). Considering changes in quantity, furloughed workers were more likely than those who remained working to report increases in fruit and vegetable consumption, exercise, and hours of sleep. Conclusions: Those furloughed exhibited similar health behaviours to those who remained in employment during the initial stages of the pandemic. There was little evidence to suggest that adoption of such social protection policies in the post-pandemic recovery period and during future economic crises had adverse effects on population health behaviours.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:This work was supported by the National Core Studies, an initiative funded by UKRI, NIHR, and the Health and Safety Executive. The COVID-19 Longitudinal Health and Wellbeing National Core Study was funded by the Medical Research Council (MC_PC_20030). Understanding Society is an initiative funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and various Government Departments, with scientific leadership by the Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex, and survey delivery by NatCen Social Research and Kantar Public. The Understanding Society COVID-19 study is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ES/K005146/1) and the Health Foundation (2076161). The research data are distributed by the UK Data Service. The Millennium Cohort Study, Next Steps, 1970 British Cohort Study, and 1958 National Child Development Study are supported by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Resource Centre 2015-20 grant (ES/M001660/1) and a host of other co-funders. The COVID-19 data collections in these four cohorts were funded by the UKRI grant Understanding the economic, social and health impacts of COVID-19 using lifetime data: evidence from 5 nationally representative UK cohorts (ES/V012789/1). The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing was developed by a team of researchers based at University College London, NatCen Social Research, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the University of Manchester, and the University of East Anglia. The data were collected by NatCen Social Research. The funding is currently provided by the National Institute on Aging in the USA, and a consortium of UK government departments coordinated by the National Institute for Health Research. Funding has also been received by the Economic and Social Research Council. The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing Covid-19 Substudy was supported by the UK Economic and Social Research Grant (ESRC) ES/V003941/1. The UK Medical Research Council and Wellcome (Grant Ref: 217065/Z/19/Z) and the University of Bristol provide core support for ALSPAC. A comprehensive list of grant funding is available on the ALSPAC website ( We are extremely grateful to all the families who took part in this study, the midwives for their help in recruiting them, and the whole ALSPAC team, which includes interviewers, computer and laboratory technicians, clerical workers, research scientists, volunteers, managers, receptionists, and nurses. The second COVID-19 data sweep was also supported by the Faculty Research Director’s discretionary fund, University of Bristol. Generation Scotland received core support from the Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government Health Directorates [CZD/16/6] and the Scottish Funding Council [HR03006]. Genotyping of the GS:SFHS samples was carried out by the Genetics Core Laboratory at the Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility, Edinburgh, Scotland, and was funded by the Medical Research Council UK and the Wellcome Trust (Wellcome Trust Strategic Award “STratifying Resilience and Depression Longitudinally” (STRADL) Reference 104036/Z/14/Z). Generation Scotland is funded by the Wellcome Trust (216767/Z/19/Z). SVK acknowledges funding from a NRS Senior Clinical Fellowship (SCAF/15/02), the Medical Research Council (MC_UU_00022/2), and the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office (SPHSU17). GJG acknowledges funding from the ESRC (ES/T009101/1). DB acknowledges funding from the Medical Research Council (MR/V002147/1).
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Katikireddi, Professor Vittal and Green, Dr Michael
Authors: Wielgoszewska, B., Maddock, J., Green, M. J., Di Gessa, G., Parsons, S., Griffith, G. J., Croft, J., Stevenson, A. J., Booth, C., Silverwood, R. J., Bann, D., Patalay, P., Hughes, A. D., Chaturvedi, N., Howe, L. D., Fitzsimons, E., Katikireddi, S. V., and Ploubidis, G. B.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Health & Wellbeing > MRC/CSO SPHSU
Journal Name:BMC Medicine
Publisher:BioMed Central
ISSN (Online):1741-7015
Copyright Holders:Copyright © The Author(s) 2022
First Published:First published in BMC Medicine
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
3048230021Inequalities in healthAlastair LeylandMedical Research Council (MRC)MC_UU_00022/2HW - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit
3048230071Inequalities in healthAlastair LeylandOffice of the Chief Scientific Adviser (CSO)SPHSU17HW - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit
172690Understanding the impacts of welfare policy on health: A novel data linkage studySrinivasa KatikireddiOffice of the Chief Scientific Adviser (CSO)SCAF/15/02SHW - Public Health