Based on our recently reported associations between specific dietary behaviors and the risk of COVID-19 infection in the UK Biobank (UKB) cohort, we further investigate whether these associations are specific to COVID-19 or extend to other respiratory infections.
Pneumonia and influenza diagnoses were retrieved from hospital and death record data linked to the UKB. Baseline, self-reported (2006–2010) dietary behaviors included being breastfed as a baby and intakes of coffee, tea, oily fish, processed meat, red meat (unprocessed), fruit, and vegetables. Logistic regression estimated the odds of pneumonia/influenza from baseline to 31 December 2019 with each dietary component, adjusting for baseline socio-demographic factors, medical history, and other lifestyle behaviors. We considered effect modification by sex and genetic factors related to pneumonia, COVID-19, and caffeine metabolism.
Of 470,853 UKB participants, 4.0% had pneumonia and 0.2% had influenza during follow up. Increased consumption of coffee, tea, oily fish, and fruit at baseline were significantly and independently associated with a lower risk of future pneumonia events. Increased consumption of red meat was associated with a significantly higher risk. After multivariable adjustment, the odds of pneumonia (p ≤ 0.001 for all) were lower by 6–9% when consuming 1–3 cups of coffee/day (vs. <1 cup/day), 8–11% when consuming 1+ cups of tea/day (vs. <1 cup/day), 10–12% when consuming oily fish in higher quartiles (vs. the lowest quartile—Q1), and 9–14% when consuming fruit in higher quartiles (vs. Q1); it was 9% higher when consuming red meat in the fourth quartile (vs. Q1). Similar patterns of associations were observed for influenza but only associations with tea and oily fish met statistical significance. The association between fruit and pneumonia risk was stronger in women than in men (p = 0.001 for interaction).
In the UKB, consumption of coffee, tea, oily fish, and fruit were favorably associated with incident pneumonia/influenza and red meat was adversely associated. Findings for coffee parallel those we reported previously for COVID-19 infection, while other findings are specific to these more common respiratory infections.