Perceived risk factors for severe Covid-19 symptoms and their association with health behaviours: Findings from the HEBECO study

Aleksandra Herbec, Jamie Brown, Sarah E. Jackson, Dimitra Kale, Mateusz Zatoński, Claire Garnett, Tim Chadborn, Lion Shahab

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (SciVal)


Risk perceptions are important influences on health behaviours. We used descriptive statistics and multivariable logistic regression models to assess cross-sectionally risk perceptions for severe Covid-19 symptoms and their health behaviour correlates among 2206 UK adults from the HEBECO study. The great majority (89–99%) classified age 70+, having comorbidities, being a key worker, overweight, and from an ethnic minority as increasing the risk. People were less sure about alcohol drinking, vaping, and nicotine replacement therapy use (17.4–29.5% responding ‘don't know’). Relative to those who did not, those who engaged in the following behaviours had higher odds of classifying these behaviours as (i) decreasing the risk: smoking cigarettes (adjusted odds ratios, aORs, 95% CI = 2.26, 1.39–3.37), and using e-cigarettes (aORs = 5.80, 3.25–10.34); (ii) having no impact: smoking cigarettes (1.98; 1.42–2.76), using e-cigarettes (aORs = 2.63, 1.96–3.50), drinking alcohol (aORs = 1.75, 1.31–2.33); and lower odds of classifying these as increasing the risk: smoking cigarettes (aORs: 0.43, 0.32–0.56), using e-cigarettes (aORs = 0.25, 0.18–0.35). Similarly, eating more fruit and vegetables was associated with classifying unhealthy diet as ‘increasing risk’ (aOR = 1.37, 1.12–1.69), and exercising more with classifying regular physical activity as ‘decreasing risk’ (aOR = 2.42, 1.75–3.34). Risk perceptions for severe Covid-19 among UK adults were lower for their own health behaviours, evidencing optimism bias. These risk perceptions may form barriers to changing people's own unhealthy behaviours, make them less responsive to interventions that refer to the risk of Covid-19 as a motivating factor, and exacerbate inequalities in health behaviours and outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103458
JournalActa Psychologica
Early online date3 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2022


  • 3300
  • 3360
  • Covid-19
  • Cross-sectional
  • Health behaviours
  • Optimism bias
  • Risk perceptions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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