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Canadian Public Health Association

February 24, 2021 2:00pm

Changes in health behaviours during early COVID-19 and socio-demographic disparities: a cross-sectional analysis


  • Anna Zajacova
  • Anthony Jehn
  • Matthew Stackhouse
  • Patrick Denice
  • Howard Ramos
  • Samantha Ghanem, Early career presenter

Moderator: Monica Emode

Our February journal club discussed a paper on changes in health behaviours during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and examine socio-demographic disparities associated with these changes.

Presenter, Samantha Ghanem 
Samantha Ghanem is a public health professional with graduate training in epidemiology and broad experience in research and policy. She currently works as a policy analyst in the Social Determinants of Health Division at the Public Health Agency of Canada. She has also worked in various research and policy positions at Diabetes Canada, Health Canada, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. She completed a Master of Science in Public Health with a specialization in Epidemiology at McGill University, and an Honours Bachelor in Health Sciences at the University of Ottawa.


Anna Zajacova
Anna Zajacova is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Western Ontario.  Her research centers on population health, trends over time, and disparities across population groups.  Over the course of the pandemic, she has co-authored studies on mortality and health behavioural impacts of COVID.

Anthony Jehn
Anthony Jehn is a doctoral candidate studying sociology at the University of Western Ontario. His research focuses on social determinants of adult health. He is particularly interested in assessing how experiences in postsecondary education influence health and health behaviors.

Matthew Stackhouse
Matthew Stackhouse is a doctoral student studying sociology at the University of Western Ontario. His research focuses on social determinants of health and health across the life course. Matthew is particularly interested in examining how early-life conditions shape health and health behaviour trajectories.

Patrick Denice
Patrick Denice is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Western Ontario. He researches inequality in education and the workplace. Some of his current work looks at whether school choice policies improve or make worse patterns of segregation in urban public education systems. He is also interested in students’ nontraditional pathways to and through postsecondary education, as well as in how workplace institutions and policies shape workers’ wages. 

Howard Ramos
Howard Ramos is Chair of the Department of Sociology at Western University. He is a political sociologist who investigates issues of social justice and equity. He has published on immigration, race, ethnicity, urban studies, social movements, human rights, Indigenous mobilization, and environmental advocacy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly disrupted daily life in Canada. This study assesses changes in health behaviours during the early stages of the pandemic and examines socio-demographic disparities associated with these changes.

We analyze data on adults age 25 and older (N = 4383) from the public-use Canadian Perspectives Survey Series 1: Impacts of COVID-19 (CPSS-COVID). Multinomial regression models assess the association between demographic and socio-economic characteristics with increases or decreases in six health behaviours: alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis use, junk food consumption, and TV and internet screen time.

While findings varied across the six behaviours, overall, there was an increase in negative health behaviours: 14% of Canadian adults reported increasing their alcohol use (95% CI = 0.12, 0.15), 25% increased their junk food consumption (95% CI = 0.23, 0.27), and over 60% increased their screen time (62%, 95% CI = 0.60, 0.65 for TV and 66%, 95% CI = 0.63, 0.68 for internet). Younger and Canada-born adults were more likely to increase negative health behaviours than older and immigrant Canadians. Adults who reported financial impact of COVID-19 were more likely to increase all negative health behaviours (e.g., for increased junk food consumption, the relative risk ratio (RRR) = 1.81, 95% CI = 1.49, 2.20 relative to group reporting no impact).

Our study documents the overall deterioration of health behaviours during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. To minimize long-term harm to the Canadian population’s health, the results highlight the need to tailor interventions, especially for younger Canadians, and the importance of mitigating financial impacts, which are linked to negative changes in health behaviours.