Youth, obesity and COVID-19

The World Health Organization (WHO) has highlighted non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as a risk factor for becoming seriously ill with COVID-19.[1] Specifically, emerging evidence seems to show that  people living with overweight or obesity are at an increased risk to fall seriously ill with coronavirus. The COVID-19 pandemic as well as the measures that have been implemented in order to control the spread of the disease are likely to have a number of impact not only on people living with overweight or obesity but also on the general population. As highlighted in a policy statement from the World Obesity Federation, these include strained food systems, food insecurity, reduced opportunities for people to be physically active, impact mental health and health systems more broadly.

While data suggests that older people are more severely affected by COVID-19, the pandemic also appears to have non-negligible impacts both from a health and non-health perspective on young people around the world. While the effects might differ based on pre-existing health conditions and age, all age groups are susceptible of being infect. Therefore, “although young, healthy individuals typically have more robust immune system than the elderly, the WHO encourages everyone, including youth, to take extra precautions to avoid infection and transmission: Washing hands regularly, keeping a social distance from others, and staying home when sick.”[2]

According the World Programme of Action for Youth (WPAY), governments need to ensure that they have adequate services for youth and it is therefore important that in the current situation, youth are accounted for in national health responses. The involvement and engagement of youth is essential to limit the virus’ spread and mitigate the impacts from a public health, societal and economical perspective.[3] In 2019, there were 1.2 billion youth between the age of 15 and 24 globally, representing 16% of the global population.[4] As young people represent one of the largest part of the population globally, we urgently need to ensure their input, perspective and suggestions is included in national responses.

“For young people, and especially for vulnerable youth, the COVID-19 crisis poses considerable risks in the fields of education, employment, mental health and disposable income. […] To avoid exacerbating intergenerational inequalities and to involve young people in building societal resilience, governments need to anticipate the impact of mitigation and recovery measures across different age groups, by applying governance mechanisms.”[5]

Youth are increasingly recognised agents of change. Therefore, meaningful youth engagement should be a key component of national COVID-19 responses. This can be through youth groups; youth-led governance processes; youth voices & opinions; youth-led implementation and advocacy; youth leadership programmes; and youth-led innovative approaches.

Below you will find a list of resources that provide some useful knowledge, tips and tools to ensure you are aware and equipped to deal with the current pandemic, and answer some of the questions you might have.

Interested in sharing your experiences of lockdown? Have some additional questions about COVID-19? Submit a blog or share content with us at healthyvoices@worldobesity.org

World Obesity Policy Dossier

Non-communicable diseases have been highlighted by the World Health Organization as a risk factor for becoming seriously ill with COVID-19. Among them, emerging evidence seems to suggest that obesity is a key risk factor for COVID-19 complications. World Obesity has been collating known evidence and materials pertaining to Obesity/NCDs and the current outbreak of COVID-19. We will aim to provide an overview of the latest available information regarding any new associations between COVID-19 and obesity and its comorbidities. Interested in reading the latest available evidence and learning what countries around the world are doing? Access the full dossier here!

Resources

  • Q&A: Adolescents, youth and COVID-19 (WHO)
    The World Health Organization, along with other governmental agencies, has compiled a list of questions and answers specifically for adolescents and youth with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • UNICEF’s Coronavirus Toolkit for young people to spread awareness and take action
    The current pandemic can be scary and confusing, with increased amount of information shared daily on news sites and social media. To help identify useful resources and fight misinformation, UNICEF has developed a toolkit that includes a set of actions that youth can take to spread awareness and take action against COVID-19. 

  • Join Voices of Youth – a global platform for young people, by young people
    Voices of youth if UNICEF’s digital community for youth, by youth.

  • NCD Child #YouthCOVIDChat campaign
    To support youth during these challenging times, NCD Child has launched a social media campaign on Twitter, the #YouthCOVIDChat campaign, to “provide a platform for young people living with or at risk of NCDs to share their stories and experiences during COVID-19.”

  • Compact for Young People in Humanitarian Action
    The goal of the Compact for Young People in Humanitarian Action is to protect youth while also acknowledging their key role in a positive COVID-19 response. In addition to briefs and guidance, they have also produced a number of youth-friendly resources.

  • COVID-19 Youth Platform (UNMGCY)
    The United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth (UNMGCY) Platform aims to “give visibility to youth initiatives responding to COVID-19 and to the health, social, and economic consequences of the pandemic.”

  • Statement on COVID-19 & Youth
    The United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development (UN IANYD) calls to recognise the role and need to include youth in the long-term response to COVID-19.

  • Youth and COVID-19: Response, Recovery and Resilience
    Based on a survey conducted a survey with 90 youth organisations across 48 different countries, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) identifies some of the measures governments can take to ensure they design fair, inclusive recovery measures from the COVID-19 pandemic, and that no one is left behind. 

  • #YouthAgainstCovid19
    Together, UNFPA and Prezi are committed to teaching youth around the world about COVID-19. This resource includes a number of videos looking at a variety of topics ranging from basic explanations of COVID-19 to some of the potential mental health consequences and offer tips and tools to deal with this difficult situation.

As highlighted by WHO, young people are not immune or safe from COVID-19. All age groups are susceptible to catch COVID-19. While evidence to date suggests that children and adolescents are less likely to get severe illness from the disease, the evidence remains slim and youth should follow the recommended guidance to protect themselves, their families, peers and broader community.

As WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “although older people are hardest hit, younger people are not spared. Data from many countries clearly show that people under 50 make up a significant proportion of patients requiring hospitalisation. Today, I have a message for young people: you are not invincible.”  

While evidence is still emerging, it seems to suggest that obesity may be a risk factor for severe outcomes and complications of COVID-19. A report by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in the US suggests that 48% of people hospitalised with COVID-19 were also affected by obesity and a study in France found that people in critical care with COVID-19 were 1.89 times more likely to have obesity than the general public. Interested in learning more about the latest evidence? Click here.

As data emerges on the risks of COVID-19 complications associated with obesity, countries are starting to include people with obesity on their list of vulnerable populations who should take extra precautions. It is not yet clear what BMI cut-offs are most appropriate, however France has opted for BMI >30, while UK and Mexico are using BMI >40. By including obesity on the vulnerable list, it prioritises people with obesity for testing and care and demonstrates the links between obesity and COVID-19 outcomes are being recognised. As strict lockdown measures ease, the conditions listed on vulnerable lists will become more relevant and have a greater impact on behaviours for those affected. Learn more about what governments around the world are doing here.

While obesity is a complex disease that takes years to develop, we could potentially see weight gain amongst adults and children for some time after the lockdown, particularly amongst the most vulnerable groups. As a result of lockdown measures, self-isolation and quarantine, it is likely that our diets have changed. In many countries around the world, households stockpiled, at the beginning of the pandemic, on non-perishable items which can be higher in fat, sugar and salt. In some places, are also witness a rise in the price of fruits and vegetables.

Our levels of physical activity are also likely to be impacted by the restrictions, not only due to people having less opportunities to exercise but because we are less active during the day. Furthermore, social distancing is likely to have an impact on mental health which we know can also contribute to overweight and obesity.

Weight stigma refers to the discriminatory acts and ideologies targeted towards individuals because of their weight and size. Stigma can result in a variety of adverse emotional and physical effects. Research has shown that due to weight stigma, some people living with obesity have reported engaging in selective social isolation. Within the context of COVID-19, this may lead them to avoid or delay accessing healthcare services, even when experiencing symptoms. The appropriate behaviour and support from health professionals is therefore more important than ever. Obesity Canada has provided a number of suggestions of what healthcare providers, policymakers and researchers can do in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure people living with obesity receive the appropriate care. These can be viewed here. You can also learn more about weight bias and obesity stigma by taking a look at our short video exploring why weight stigma can be dangerous!

As youth represent the largest age group of the population globally, they have the potential to make a huge difference in curbing the spread of COVID-19. As we are going through difficult times and the situation is rapidly changing, there are a few things you can do to help you get through this:

  • Stay informed: visit the World Health Organization’s website for the latest updates on the evolution of the pandemic.
  • Take care of your health: Adopt all the appropriate hygiene measures, but also ensure that you maintain a healthy and balanced diet, get enough sleep and daily physical activity. Furthermore, ensure to take care of your mental health.
  • Take action

It is more important than ever that people with obesity have access to information and resources to support them. There is a wide range of resources and materials available which can be viewed here.

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