Does COVID-19 Present an Opportunity to Embed Healthy Behaviours?

Does COVID-19 Present an Opportunity to Embed Healthy Behaviours?

We are all familiar with the concept that supporting citizens and patients to adopt healthy lifestyles creates positive results for treatment and prevention of illness – helping people to live longer, healthier lives and reducing the demand for (plus delays in) treatment and care. Poor health lifestyles present a serious threat to population health, particularly for more disadvantaged groups.

Whilst health practitioners and leaders of public services can do their utmost to create the right environment for good health, this only goes so far. Getting people to change their behaviour is the difficult part.

As we face a ‘new normal’ where life has been upended and new daily routines created, there is an opportunity for people to form new habits and break old ones. Is now the time to help establish long-lasting health and wellbeing behaviours across our populations?

Does COVID-19 present a watershed moment to drive change?

The launch of the government’s ‘Better Health’ campaign was well-timed, acting quickly to capture a moment when many people had used the first national lockdown as an opportunity to change habits and adopt healthier behaviour. At the same time, research has shown that during this time over half the population found it harder to stay healthy, which may itself present an opportunity for change.

Analysis in this article shows a significant increase in downloads of the NHS-backed Public Health England fitness app From Couch to 5K during lockdown. NHS leaders who have backed the app say its widespread adoption could, alongside other similar fitness apps, help even more people to lead healthier lifestyles. While this is a step in the right direction, sustaining an increase in activity will be the next challenge.

And with smoking still being the biggest underlying cause of death in the UK, new analysis by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and UCL finds that over a million people in the UK have stopped smoking since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. A further 440,000 smokers tried to quit during this period. These are all positive changes towards achieving the 2030 smoke-free target as set by the UK Government.

In this short blog by The Behavioural Insights Team, you can explore three ideas for how behavioural science can help people maintain new habits as restrictions ease, and also drive broader positive changes post-lockdown. With 85% of Britons wanting to see at least some of the personal or social changes we have experienced to continue longer term, learn more about what they describe as the ‘Fresh Start’ phenomenon.


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