Food and Behaviour Research

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Diet quality and risk and severity of COVID-19: a prospective cohort study

Merino J, Joshi A, Nguyen L, Leeming E, Mazidi M, Drew D, Gibson R, Graham M, Lo C, Capdevila J, Murray B, Hu C, Selvachandran S, Hammers A, Bhupathiraju S, Sharma S, Sudre C, Astley C, Chavarro J, Kwon S, Ma W, Menni C, Willett W, Ourselin S, Steves C, Wolf J, Franks P, Spector T, Berry S, Chan A (2021) Gut DOI: 10.1136/gutjnl-2021-325353  

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Abstract:

Objective: Poor metabolic health and unhealthy lifestyle factors have been associated with risk and severity of COVID-19, but data for diet are lacking. We aimed to investigate the association of diet quality with risk and severity of COVID-19 and its interaction with socioeconomic deprivation.

Design: We used data from 592 571 participants of the smartphone-based COVID-19 Symptom Study. Diet information was collected for the prepandemic period using a short food frequency questionnaire, and diet quality was assessed using a healthful Plant-Based Diet Score, which emphasises healthy plant foods such as fruits or vegetables. Multivariable Cox models were fitted to calculate HRs and 95% CIs for COVID-19 risk and severity defined using a validated symptom-based algorithm or hospitalisation with oxygen support, respectively.

Results: Over 3 886 274 person-months of follow-up, 31 815 COVID-19 cases were documented. Compared with individuals in the lowest quartile of the diet score, high diet quality was associated with lower risk of COVID-19 (HR 0.91; 95% CI 0.88 to 0.94) and severe COVID-19 (HR 0.59; 95% CI 0.47 to 0.74). The joint association of low diet quality and increased deprivation on COVID-19 risk was higher than the sum of the risk associated with each factor alone (Pinteraction=0.005). The corresponding absolute excess rate per 10 000 person/months for lowest vs highest quartile of diet score was 22.5 (95% CI 18.8 to 26.3) among persons living in areas with low deprivation and 40.8 (95% CI 31.7 to 49.8) among persons living in areas with high deprivation.

Conclusions: A diet characterised by healthy plant-based foods was associated with lower risk and severity of COVID-19. This association may be particularly evident among individuals living in areas with higher socioeconomic deprivation.