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Public and environmental health

Publication Details

ÓhAiseadha C, Quinn GA, Connolly R, Wilson A, Connolly M, Soon W, Hynds P. Unintended Consequences of COVID-19 Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) for Population Health and Health Inequalities. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2023; 20(7):5223.


Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, governments around the world have adopted an array of measures intended to control the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, using both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs). NPIs are public health interventions that do not rely on vaccines or medicines and include policies such as lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, school closures, and travel restrictions. Although the intention was to slow viral transmission, emerging research indicates that these NPIs have also had unintended consequences for other aspects of public health. Hence, we conducted a narrative review of studies investigating these unintended consequences of NPIs, with a particular emphasis on mental health and on lifestyle risk factors for non-communicable diseases (NCD): physical activity (PA), overweight and obesity, alcohol consumption, and tobacco smoking. We reviewed the scientific literature using combinations of search terms such as ‘COVID-190 , ‘pandemic’, ‘lockdowns’, ‘mental health’, ‘physical activity’, and ‘obesity’. NPIs were found to have considerable adverse consequences for mental health, physical activity, and overweight and obesity. The impacts on alcohol and tobacco consumption varied greatly within and between studies. The variability in consequences for different groups implies increased health inequalities by age, sex/gender, socioeconomic status, pre-existing lifestyle, and place of residence. In conclusion, a proper assessment of the use of NPIs in attempts to control the spread of the pandemic should be weighed against the potential adverse impacts on other aspects of public health. Our findings should also be of relevance for future pandemic preparedness and pandemic response teams.



Science Foundation Ireland; Center for Environmental Research and Earth Sciences (CERES);

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Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

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