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The University of Southampton

Exploring the impact of COVID-19 on BAME communities: Physical Activity and Nutrition

Published: 10 February 2021
Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

University of Southampton researchers have joined a new research project to explore ways in which COVID-19 has increased inequalities for people in Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities in the UK and recommend ways to address them.

Maria Stokes, Professor of Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation, and Sabu Padmadas, Professor of Demography and Global Health, will be part of the new Consortium on Practices for Wellbeing and Resilience in BAME Families and Communities (Co-POWeR), led by Professor Iyiola Solanke at the University of Leeds.

The project has received funding of £2.5 million by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) via the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Researchers will investigate the combined impact of COVID-19 and various factors, including racial discrimination, on wellbeing and resilience across these groups, aiming to create a fuller picture of the vulnerabilities of these communities.

Beginning in February, the 18-month project will explore how emergency COVID-19 powers are disproportionately impacting people from BAME backgrounds, and how the pandemic is affecting care and caring, as well as mental and physical health and wellbeing across all ages.

Co-POWeR will generate evidence-based recommendations for policymakers on the interventions needed to support these communities. The team will also work with documentary filmmakers and theatre arts specialists to develop non-fiction and fiction outputs.

Professor Solanke, the project principal investigator, said “We want to illustrate that the way in which COVID-19 is exacerbating the experience of inequality for those in these [BAME] communities.

“The people in these communities have developed new strategies to promote their own wellbeing and resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic, but given the ongoing nature of the pandemic, official interventions are also needed to support them.

Co-POWeR is a consortium of nine academics from across the UK, eight of whom are members of the Black Female Professors Forum.

The researchers will form a People’s Commission to conduct interviews with people in BAME families and communities to establish what support is needed.

Professor Solanke added, “Empowerment is a key aspect of Co-POWeR. We want to get to the heart of what’s going on by listening to the voices of those in these families and communities. Only by hearing from them can we determine what support is required.

“The work will demonstrate why it is necessary to take an integrated, intersectional approach to the understand the jostling, over-lapping challenges faced by these families and communities.

“We will use this evidence to make policy recommendations which best support BAME families and communities who are being subjected by COVID 19 to a complex cocktail of challenges to their everyday lives.”

University of Southampton researchers will play key roles in this project, in partnership with collaborators in other universities, communities and charities across the UK.  Professor Maria Stokes, who leads the Active Living for Health Research Group in the School of Health Sciences, will lead the work package on Physical Activity and Nutrition. This will explore the reasons why people in BAME communities became less active during the Covid-19 pandemic while other communities in the UK became more active. Changes in nutrition will also be explored.

Prof Stokes said, “It is well known that regular physical activity, which requires good nutrition, helps to prevent and improve underlying health conditions that affected the severity of impact of Covid-19 on health, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.  These conditions are also common in BAME communities, so it’s vital to ensure that people who are vulnerable to the conditions are active and eat well.”  

This work package will involve a survey (as part of a large survey across all sites) and conducting focus groups, interviews and workshops in BAME communities UK-wide. The researchers will work very closely with patient and public representatives to co-produce relevant educational materials to help people improve their physical activity and nutrition. They will also provide recommendations for policy makers to support people to achieve healthy lifestyles to protect them from being vulnerable to future threats to health and wellbeing.

A national network of patient and public representatives will be led by Southampton and support all the work packages in the project based at other universities.  Professor Sabu Padmadas, who has vast expertise in national and international population and health surveys, will be providing statistical expertise for conducting and analysing the survey for all the work packages.  He says “To generate representative population data on BAME communities requires a multifaceted logical approach, targeting specific clusters of ethnic communities and ensuring that the sample captures individuals and households from across socioeconomic strata. Our goal is to triangulate evidence by integrating both qualitative and quantitative data, to analyse and interpret the mechanisms (processes) underlying different risk behaviours and associated inequalities.

"The exciting part is the blend of disciplines to address the complexities of a challenging social problem of national importance.”

UKRI Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated longstanding inequalities in health, employment and education in the UK.

 “Emerging evidence suggests that people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds have experienced the hardest economic shocks. We cannot ignore the social, cultural and economic factors that have shaped the experiences of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities throughout the pandemic.

 “It is crucial that we understand the depth and breadth of the impacts of these factors so that we can take action to alleviate the consequences for these communities.”

Other members of the consortium are:

·         Florence Ayisi, Professor of International Documentary Film from the University of South Wales

·         Professor Claudia Bernard, Professor of Social Work & Head of Postgraduate Research at Goldsmiths, University of London

·         Gargy Bhattacharyya, Professor of Sociology at University of East London

·         Anna Gupta, Professor of Management at Royal Holloway

·         Raminder Kaur, Professor of Anthropology and Cultural Studies at the University of Sussex

·         Monica Lakhanpaul, Professor of integrated Community Child Health at University College London

·         Shirin Rai, Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick

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