2020 policy round up

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Twitter: 2020 policy round up – how the Covid-19 response has shaped the policy landscape and highlighted the importance of environmental factors #exposome #buildbackbetter


As 2021 starts to take shape, so does year two of the LongITools project. When it began in January last year, no one could have predicted quite how 2020 played out. A year dominated by the Covid-19 global pandemic, the response, and beginnings of some form of recovery (before some nations switched back to response) has shaped the policy landscape beyond recognition.

Whatever people’s personal memories of 2020, it has brought to light important elements of the environmental context to the LongITools research and the importance of the exposome approach we are taking.

The pandemic highlighted how inequalities within communities can lead to disproportionate health disparities and has led calls to ‘Build Back Better’, or even more importantly ‘Build Back Fairer’.

Sir Michael Marmot, Professor and Director at the Institute of Health Equity, highlighted many of these inequalities in his Build Back Fairer: The Covid-19 Marmot Review.[1] Whilst the report was focused upon the impact in England, it raises global issues and highlights lessons to be learnt across numerous areas of policy, such as: the best start in life, the impact of work and jobs on health, healthy and sustainable places, and general population health.

The Health Foundation[2] discussed how housing affects health ‘before and beyond Covid-19’. This focused upon the quality and condition of housing, having housing stability and security and the affordability of housing. In response to Covid-19, national governments introduced “stay at home” messages and lockdowns. Poor housing conditions and overcrowding made self-isolating difficult for many. Those in larger houses were also able to benefit from private outdoor space and found it easier to adapt to working from home, where their jobs permitted. For those living alone, loneliness contributed to poorer mental and physical health.

One of the realities that Covid-19 has highlighted further is that those with long-term health conditions or underlying chronic conditions are more susceptible to the disease.[3] We also know that smoking or obesity is more prevalent in more deprived communities, further widening the inverse association of the pandemic and socio-economic inequality.

Covid-19 has highlighted the inadequate, and unequal, access to high quality green spaces.[4] The power of place on health cannot be over emphasised. As countries locked down, the lack of green space available to people to utilise their permissible time outside, disproportionately affected those communities who could not easily access it. Public health guidance recommends 150 minutes of physical activity per week, but the pandemic reduced people’s options to undertake this, especially where they lived in areas with little or no green space.

But policy makers are starting to #buildbackbetter in local places. In early January 2021, the mayor of Paris announced plans to turn the Champs-Elysees area into “an extraordinary garden”.[5] Barcelona is also shaping their city to ensure that no resident will be more than 200 metres from a green space.[6]

Amsterdam have utilised British economist Kate Raworth’s doughnut economics in their strategy for local recovery post Covid-19.[7] The theory switches from the traditional focus upon purely economic growth to incorporating health, environmental justice, housing, and essentials to life, to reduce inequalities and protect the health of people and the planet.

It is crucial that the impact of these interventions, on different cohorts of the population, are understood to ensure they do not exacerbate existing inequalities.

At a European level, whilst 2020 provided the climax to Brexit in addition to the challenges of Covid-19, it also saw the development of the EU Green Deal. The deal, intended to outline the EU’s approach to climate change and environmental degradation, will “make the EU’s economy sustainable.”[8] In 2020, the 2030 Climate Target Plan was presented as well as the introduction of various strategies around Biodiversity, ‘Farm to Fork’, Circular Economy, and Industry.

The EU Green Deal ambitions provide a unique policy opportunity to #buildbackbetter and fairer. And LongITools can help. By taking an exposome approach to understand the biological effects of external environmental factors, across different cohorts, will allow environmental and health policy to be tackled collectively. Going forward, to learn lessons from 2020, policymakers need to be bold, using emerging evidence and findings from science and research to provide evidence-based solutions.


[1] http://www.instituteofhealthequity.org/resources-reports/build-back-fairer-the-covid-19-marmot-review/build-back-fairer-the-covid-19-marmot-review-full-report.pdf

[2] https://www.health.org.uk/publications/long-reads/better-housing-is-crucial-for-our-health-and-the-covid-19-recovery

[3] https://academic.oup.com/eurpub/article/30/4/617/5868718

[4] https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2020/07/03/covid-19-has-highlighted-the-inadequate-and-unequal-access-to-high-quality-green-spaces/

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/10/paris-approves-plan-to-turn-champs-elysees-into-extraordinary-garden-anne-hidalgo

[6] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/12/sustainable-cities-covid-19-barcelona-green-zones-coronavirus/

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/08/amsterdam-doughnut-model-mend-post-coronavirus-economy

[8] https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/european-green-deal_en