These days even the mention of obesity or being overweight is becoming a bit of a taboo subject. There are a lot of people who advocate the big is beautiful and a new field of body awareness experts saying it’s fine and embrace who you are. The fact of the matter is that we need to address the growing obesity crisis that our country is facing. Currently, the United Kingdom is the fattest country in Europe and is sitting sixth in the world, so could this be one of the reasons that we are also seeing the highest death rates from Covid-19.
A team of 26 researchers pulled together a meta-analysis of peer-reviewed papers covering 399,000 patients. They found that people who were classed as obese, BMI 30 or over (the center of disease control and preventions) who contracted covid-19, were 113% more likely than someone with a healthy BMI (<25) to end up in a hospital. They were also 74% more likely to end up in an ICU unit and 48% more likely to die.
In one of the largest descriptive studies by genentech researchers found of hospitalised patients in the United States (another country with high obesity rates and high covid death rate), it was found that 77% of nearly 77,000 patients were overweight (29%) or obese (48%).
We know that many of the deaths from covid-19 were due to people having underlying health issues. The office of national statistics published that between 1-march 2020 and 30-April 2020, 90.4% of covid deaths had at least one other underlying health issue that they were taking medication for. Some underlying health issues listed are diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, all of which are issues that are related to obesity. Let’s look at some figures from patients who are diabetic.
Diabetes.org posted figures showing that between 1-March 2020 and 11-May 2020, 33% of patients who died in English hospitals following a diagnosis of covid-19 had diabetes. Age also has a factor with these figures showing that the 33% was made up of 7,307 people aged over 60 and 593 people who were aged under 60. Interestingly 31.3% of that figure were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and we know that this type of diabetes not only accounts for 90% of all diabetes diagnoses but is also linked to obesity and lifestyle. The worrying aspect of this is that type2 diabetes was seen as an older person issue for many years but with the increase in childhood obesity rates we are seeing more of the younger generation being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
Anne Dixon who is physician-scientist studying obesity and lung disease explains the physical pathologies that render people with obesity vulnerable to severe COVID-19 begin with mechanics: Fat in the abdomen pushes up on the diaphragm, causing that large muscle, which lies below the chest cavity, to impinge on the lungs and restrict airflow. This reduced lung volume leads to a collapse of airways in the lower lobes of the lungs, where more blood arrives for oxygenation than in the upper lobes. “If you are already starting [with] this mismatch, you are going to get worse faster” from COVID-19.
The fight against obesity has been talked about at a government level for years, and apart from the odd “token” suggestion by them, it seems to be a losing battle. The whole food industry needs to be changed and we need better education on what good nutrition and health are. It might be too late for this generation but if we start now we could make the following generations healthier and more robust against further illnesses that might appear. If we want to take the pressure off the NHS then let’s start making bigger changes to our health and nutrition and then we will see a reduction in treatments for blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, and many more illnesses connected to nutrition.
Idris, I., 2020. Diabetes, obesity and metabolism news and views, April 2020. Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism Now,.
Science | AAAS. 2021. Why COVID-19 is more deadly in people with obesity—even if they’re young. [online] Available at: <https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/09/why-covid-19-more-deadly-people-obesity-even-if-theyre-young> [Accessed 31 January 2021].
UK, D., diabetes, N., courses, N. and possible, Y., 2021. NHSE statistics on coronavirus deaths in people with diabetes. [online] Diabetes UK. Available at: <https://www.diabetes.org.uk/about_us/news/coronavirus-statistics> [Accessed 31 January 2021].