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

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Jordi Merino, Amit D Joshi, Long H Nguyen, Emily R Leeming, Mohsen Mazidi, David A Drew, Rachel Gibson, Mark S Graham, Chun-Han Lo, Joan Capdevila, Benjamin Murray, Christina Hu, Somesh Selvachandran, Alexander Hammers, Shilpa N Bhupathiraju, Shreela V Sharma, Carole Sudre, Christina M Astley, Jorge E Chavarro, Sohee Kwon & 10 more Wenjie Ma, Cristina Menni, Walter C Willett, Sebastien Ourselin, Claire J Steves, Jonathan Wolf, Paul W Franks, Timothy D Spector, Sarah Berry, Andrew T Chan

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2096-2104
Number of pages9
JournalGut
Volume70
Issue number11
Early online date6 Sep 2021
DOIs
Accepted/In press19 Aug 2021
E-pub ahead of print6 Sep 2021
Published1 Nov 2021

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Publisher Copyright: © Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2021. No commercial re-use. See rights and permissions. Published by BMJ.

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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.

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