Cost of living crisis is affecting the health of poorest people still reeling from Covid pandemic – Dr Gwenetta Curry

During the first week of August, there were about 164,100 people infected with Covid on any given day, equating to about one in 30 people.

While virus rates are nowhere near where they were during the pandemic’s peak, vaccines have greatly reduced the risk of death, and Covid restrictions have been removed for over six months, for many, the economic impact continues to be felt.

And now the current economic crisis has many people worried about how they will heat their homes and feed their family.

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A recent survey done by Edinburgh charity Cyrenians found more than one-in-five Scots have struggled to pay for their weekly food shops due to the cost-of-living crisis.

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The ability to feed one’s family is one of the most basic rights that should be afforded to everyone but continues to be a daily challenge for many.

As schools have now reopened, children up to primary 6 are at least guaranteed school meals. While this will undoubtedly be a great help to families in need, the question of “what’s for dinner?” remains.

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Food prices have continued to increase with prices of everyday staples like budget pasta, mince, and bread rising by 50 per cent in the year to April, according to the Office of National Statistics.

Families are having to make tough choices about what to feed their families. A healthy diet is important for children to meet their developmental markers and can prevent the development of chronic diseases.

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Sales of salad and fruit have fallen as people choose cheaper but less healthy food (Picture: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)
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Data from June suggested that the value of total salad sales had dropped by 4.8 per cent, compared to the same period last year, and total fruit sales were also down by 3.9 per cent. Families are having to choose some of the cheaper and less healthy food options which could lead to poor health outcomes.

As we go into the winter months and heating costs increase, food insecurity will continue to get worse. It is predicted energy prices will rise this October and January with the poorest 20 per cent of households expected to pay an additional £1,800-2,000.

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This will create dangerous conditions for many families during the winter months as they may opt to keep their heating off to reduce their bills. Previous studies have found that cold homes can have a detrimental impact on the health of people with comorbidities such as hypertension and asthma. Low-income families are going to disproportionately suffer during the economic crisis and the impact could be detrimental for generations to come.

During the winter months, mental health disorders increase, and the stress of the economic downturn could have a major impact on those who are already suffering.

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As the days get shorter and the hours of sunshine are reduced, many people experience mood changes and become lethargic. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects about two million people in the UK and more than 12 million across northern Europe. Across the UK, NHS mental health services are already stretched thin with two-thirds experiencing wait times of more than four weeks and one in four waiting more than three months.

The economic crisis has impacted many facets of people’s everyday life and major steps are needed to ensure adequate resources are allocated to address the needs of the population.

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Dr Gwenetta Curry is an Edinburgh University lecturer on race, ethnicity and health

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