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Impacts of changes in environmental exposures and health behaviours due to the COVID-19 pandemic on cardiovascular and mental health: A comparison of Barcelona, Vienna, and Stockholm.

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Koch, Sarah 
Khomenko, Sasha 
Cirach, Marta 
Ubalde-Lopez, Mònica 
Baclet, Sacha 


Responses to COVID-19 altered environmental exposures and health behaviours associated with non-communicable diseases. We aimed to (1) quantify changes in nitrogen dioxide (NO2), noise, physical activity, and greenspace visits associated with COVID-19 policies in the spring of 2020 in Barcelona (Spain), Vienna (Austria), and Stockholm (Sweden), and (2) estimated the number of additional and prevented diagnoses of myocardial infarction (MI), stroke, depression, and anxiety based on these changes. We calculated differences in NO2, noise, physical activity, and greenspace visits between pre-pandemic (baseline) and pandemic (counterfactual) levels. With two counterfactual scenarios, we distinguished between Acute Period (March 15th - April 26th, 2020) and Deconfinement Period (May 2nd - June 30th, 2020) assuming counterfactual scenarios were extended for 12 months. Relative risks for each exposure difference were estimated with exposure-risk functions. In the Acute Period, reductions in NO2 (range of change from -16.9 μg/m3 to -1.1 μg/m3), noise (from -5 dB(A) to -2 dB(A)), physical activity (from -659 METmin/wk to -183 METmin/wk) and greenspace visits (from -20.2 h/m to 1.1 h/m) were largest in Barcelona and smallest in Stockholm. In the Deconfinement Period, NO2 (from -13.9 μg/m3 to -3.1 μg/m3), noise (from -3 dB(A) to -1 dB(A)), and physical activity levels (from -524 METmin/wk to -83 METmin/wk) remained below pre-pandemic levels in all cities. Greatest impacts were caused by physical activity reductions. If physical activity levels in Barcelona remained at Acute Period levels, increases in annual diagnoses for MI (mean: 572 (95% CI: 224, 943)), stroke (585 (6, 1156)), depression (7903 (5202, 10,936)), and anxiety (16,677 (926, 27,002)) would be anticipated. To decrease cardiovascular and mental health impacts, reductions in NO2 and noise from the first COVID-19 surge should be sustained, but without reducing physical activity. Focusing on cities' connectivity that promotes active transportation and reduces motor vehicle use assists in achieving this goal.



Air pollution, Cardiovascular disease, Greenspace, Mental disorders, Noise, Physical activity

Journal Title

Environmental Pollution

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Volume Title


European Commission Horizon 2020 (H2020) ERC (817754)