The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the additional health vulnerabilities associated with obesity. The UK was labelled Fat Man of Europe in 2010 after an OECD report highlighted that ‚’Obesity rates in the United Kingdom are the highest in Europe.‚’ The label stuck and the most recent 2018 NHS figures show it is still justified: ‚’The majority of adults were overweight or obese, 67% of men and 60% of women‚’ whilst ‚’20% of Year 6 children were classified as obese‚’.
People with obesity are more likely than healthy-weight people to have other diseases that are independent risk factors for severe COVID-19, including heart or lung disease and diabetes. The biology of obesity includes impaired immunity, chronic inflammation, reduced lung capacity and blood with an increased tendency to clot, all of which can worsen symptoms. Numerous studies have now sadly shown that people with obesity are more likely to be hospitalised with the virus, be admitted to an ICU and to die.
These implications are a huge incentive to tackle the problem and save lives. However, restrictions introduced to control the spread of the virus have immediately hampered progress. Isolation, quarantine, social distancing, orders to stay at home and only exercise locally once a day; scientists are unsurprisingly concluding ‚’It is reasonable to assume that lockdown leads to reduced levels of physical activity in the general population.‚’ Add in closure of gyms, leisure centres and dance studios, months of cold, dark winter, little opportunity for shopping on foot and none for socialising and the attractions of junk food on the sofa in front of the tv are clear.
COVID-19 has made clear how to drastically improve health outcomes for thousands of people but by its nature, has stopped us from taking the obvious first steps towards improvement.