Obesity linked to hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 deaths, says report

Ella Pickover, PA Health Correspondent
·3 min read

Hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 deaths could have been avoided if the obesity epidemic had been tackled, the World Obesity Federation has said.

Obesity has been linked to a higher risk of severe Covid-19 and death from the disease.

And a World Obesity Federation report claims that around nine in 10 Covid-19 deaths have occurred in countries with high obesity rates.

This includes the UK, which has the third-highest Covid death rate in the world and the fourth-highest obesity rate.

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The report, which has analysed obesity rates in countries around the world as well as Covid-19 deaths, also says that the death rate is 10 times higher in countries where 50% or more of the population is overweight.

The authors said that 2.2 million of the 2.5 million global deaths were in countries with high levels of obesity.

They added that countries with low levels of obesity do not have high death rates, but other factors could also be at play.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said the report should act as a “wake-up call” for governments to tackle their obesity problems.

Author of the report Dr Tim Lobstein, senior policy adviser to the World Obesity Federation and visiting professor at the University of Sydney, said: “We now know that an overweight population is the next pandemic waiting to happen.

“Look at countries like Japan and South Korea where they have very low levels of Covid-19 deaths as well as very low levels of adult obesity. They have prioritised public health across a range of measures, including population weight, and it has paid off in the pandemic.

“Governments have been negligent and ignored the economic value of a healthy population at their peril.

“For the last decade they have failed to tackle obesity, despite setting themselves targets at United Nations meetings.

“Covid-19 is only the latest infection exacerbated by weight issues, but the warning signs were there. We have seen it in the past with Mers, H1N1 and other respiratory diseases.”

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Johanna Ralston, chief executive of the World Obesity Federation said: “The failure to address the root causes of obesity over many decades is clearly responsible for hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths.”

Commenting on the report, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said: “This report must act as a wake-up call to governments globally.

“The correlation between obesity and mortality rates from Covid-19 is clear and compelling.

“Investment in public health and co-ordinated, international action to tackle the root causes of obesity is one of the best ways for countries to build resilience in health systems post-pandemic. We urge all countries to seize this moment.”

According to data cited by the report, the UK has the third highest Covid-19 death rate per 100,000 population, at 181.7, behind Belgium (191.76) and Slovenia (182.65).

The percentage of the adult population who are overweight is 63.7% in the UK, 59.5% in Belgium and 56.1% in Slovenia.