Intervention on obesity needed to prevent further COVID-19 deaths, experts say

Campaign groups are calling for an immediate government intervention on obesity in a bid to drive down the coronavirus death rate.Campaigners are calling for an immediate government intervention on obesity in a bid to drive down the coronavirus death rate.

Action on Sugar and Action on Salt have put together an evidence-based plan for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to help those living with obesity.

In light of increasing evidence that obesity is a risk factor for more severe illness and death from COVID-19, the groups are urging the nation to know their BMI numbers – and for the government to improve advice, access and treatments.

This falls ahead of the government’s imminent review that will analyse how different factors impact on people’s health outcomes from the virus.

Of the COVID-19 risk factors, obesity and the degree of control of type 2 diabetes can both be modified.

But the groups argue those ‘living with obesity’ are being failed due to the current access troubles regarding health services.

Additionally, they are calling on ministers to act on previous commitments to tackle the obesity crisis prior to the pandemic.

Graham MacGregor CBE is the chairman of Action on Sugar and Action on Salt and a professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London.

‘Data shows that 78% of coronavirus infections and 62% of hospital deaths occur in overweight or obese individuals. Boris Johnson himself is reportedly concerned about his own weight with an estimated BMI of 36,’ he said.

‘The government has a moral duty to intervene. Obesity is also the main underlining cause of type 2 diabetes which in itself is another potentially modifiable risk factor for more severe COVID-19.

‘However, long planned and awaited governmental measures to address this have been unbelievably put on hold due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This is a time when they have never been more necessary.’

Treat and prevent

The campaigners are also calling for the government to treat and prevent:

  • Provide guidance for identifying modifiable risk factors
  • Improve understanding of the many causes of obesity
  • Increase access and funding for bariatric surgery
  • Increase access and funding for evidence-based weight loss support
  • Ensure only healthy products are advertised and promoted
  • Adopt fiscal measures to promote healthy food (with income ring-fenced to subsidise treatments)
  • Make nutrition labelling mandatory
  • Ensure all food provided to key workers in their workplaces is healthy
  • Improve the nutritional profile of processed food and drink
  • Set up a new, independent and transparent food watchdog

Campaign director Katharine Jenner said: ‘The British public are being failed by the current food environment.

‘There is an element of personal responsibility in both the treatment and prevention of obesity. But this can only be achieved with equitable access to healthy, affordable food. This is far from a reality.

‘It is even more critical than ever for the food and drink industry, including the hospitality sector, to stop flooding us with unhealthy food options to keep us healthy – both now and in the future.’

Boris’ battle with coronavirus

This comes as Boris Johnson reportedly said he will ramp up strategies to drive down obesity rates. 

Earlier this month, Johnson told senior ministers he is keen to lead a new strategy to combat the condition, according to The Times,

Additionally, the report suggests this is a result of Johnson believing his own weight contributed to the severity of his case of COVID-19.

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