Malgorzata Mikucka, Radoslaw Antczak
Role of individual characteristics and national distancing policies for COVID-19 protective behaviour among older adults: a cross-sectional study of 27 European countries

BMJ Open, 2023: 23, (article no. e060291), pp. 1-10
ISSN: 2044-6055 (e-only)

Objective Evidence on how individual characteristics and distancing policies during the first wave of COVID-19 together influenced health behaviours is scarce. The objective of this study is to fill in this gap by studying how the propensity to engage in protective behaviours in Europe was shaped by the interplay of individual characteristics and national policies.

Design Data on individual behaviour in 27 countries came from the ‘Corona Survey’ module of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, collected in summer 2020. As outcomes, we considered avoidant behaviours (never leaving home, reducing frequency of walks and reducing frequency of social meetings) and preventive behaviour (wearing a face mask). Among relevant policies, we considered stay-at- home restrictions, mask wearing policies and gathering restrictions. Individual characteristics comprised gender, health risk of COVID-19 (older age and poor health) and activity (employment and providing help to other households).

Participants Nationally representative samples of older adults (50 years and over), n=51 540 respondents (58% of women).

Results Active people (employed and helping other households) were more likely to wear face masks but less likely to use avoidant behaviours. People at health risk (older people and those in poor health) were more likely to use all types of protective behaviours. Protective behaviours were also more frequent among women than among men. Longer duration of distancing polices correlated with more frequent protective behaviours. Distancing policies reduced social differences in the rate of protective behaviours only in case of social meetings and mask wearing.

Conclusions Protective behaviours responded to distancing policies, but our results suggest that people used them voluntarily, especially if they were at health risk.