WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
- The World Obesity Federation has revealed that countries with high obesity rates have around 10 times higher COVID-19 mortality rates.
- Almost 90% of the COVID-19 deaths around the world were in countries where more than half of their population is overweight.
- Researchers have suggested prioritizing the obese population for COVID-19 testing and vaccination.
Countries with high obesity rates had around 10 times higher COVID-19 mortality rates, a recent report by the World Obesity Federation revealed on Wednesday.
Of the 2.5 million COVID-19 deaths reported by the end of February, 2.2 million (nearly 90%) were in countries where the majority of the population is overweight, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and Johns Hopkins University (JHU).
Researchers discovered that COVID-19 mortality rates increased with obesity rates among more than 160 countries, even while taking age and national wealth into consideration.
Countries with an overweight population of less than 40% had low COVID-19 mortality rates — no more than 10 people per 100,000. For example, Vietnam, which has an overweight population of 18.3%, reported 0.04 deaths per 100,000 people. Similar patterns were observed in Japan, South Korea, and Thailand.
In comparison, countries with an overweight population of more than 50% reported about 100 deaths per 100,000 people. The US, which has an overweight population of about 67.9%, reported 152.49 deaths per 100,000. Similar patterns were observed in the UK, where 67% of men and 60% of women are overweight or obese.
While age remains to be the predominant risk factor for hospitalization and death from COVID-19, being overweight is a close second.
Johanna Ralston, CEO of the World Obesity Federation, pointed out, “Old age is unavoidable, but the conditions that contribute to overweight and obesity can be highly avoidable if governments step up and we all join forces to reduce the impact of this disease.”
Ralston added, “The failure to address the root causes of obesity over many decades is clearly responsible for hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths.”
A similar statement was echoed by the report’s author, Dr. Tim Lobstein.
Being overweight is also a well-known risk factor for a slew of other diseases and viral infections, such as cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, respiratory diseases, the flu, H1N1, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Lobstein warned.
Having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25-29.9 kg/m² means a person is overweight while a BMI over 30 kg/m² indicates obesity.
While having a higher BMI does not increase one’s risk for COVID-19 infection, it does increase one’s risk for severe symptoms, according to a July 2020 report from Public Health England.
Another study found that people with a BMI of 35 to 40 had about 40% higher risk of dying from COVID-19. Those with a BMI over 40 increased their risk by 90%. Several other studies confirmed the link between obesity and COVID-19 hospitalization and mortality.
Obesity leaves patients vulnerable to other health issues and COVID-19 complications. This link has prompted the World Obesity Forum to suggest prioritizing the obese population for Covid-19 testing and vaccination.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the report “a wake-up call” for governments to act accordingly.