COVID News Digest: Obesity and COVID-19 - March 2021

NewsCOVID News Digest: Obesity and COVID-19 - March 2021

We are compiling stories from credible sources representing all regions of the world, including academic articles, position statements and mainstream news, amongst others. 

If you have signed up to our newsletter, we will be sending this digest to your inbox during the current pandemic. If you have any stories from your country or discipline, please send through to us at eneeds@worldobesity.org.


Hospitalised Covid-19 patients with obesity significantly more likely to need ICU care: StudyHindustan Times

A new study has revealed that people living with obesity who have been hospitalised with COVID-19 have a significantly higher rate of ICU admissions and longer duration of ICU stay, compared to people with a normal body mass index (BMI). Researchers from Yale-New Haven Health analysed data from 3,268 adult patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at five hospitals within the Yale-New Haven Health System between March and November 2020. Patients with obesity were 26 percent more likely to need ICU care overall than patients who did not have obesity. Individuals with severe obesity, or a BMI of 40 or higher, were twice as likely to need ICU care compared with patients with a normal BMI. The study was presented virtually at ENDO 2021, the Endocrine Society's annual meeting.


Bariatric surgery lowers COVID-19 complications, researchers sayABC Ksat.com

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic studied 363 COVID-19 patients who had a BMI of 40 or more at the time they tested positive for COVID-19. The study found that in patients with severe obesity, 42 percent required hospital admission after contracting COVID- 19 but patients who had bariatric surgery before, only 18 percent required hospital admission after contracting COVID-19. The study showed that 13 percent of the patients without surgery were admitted to the ICU, seven percent needed ventilators, and two percent died. None of the patients who had bariatric surgery were admitted to the ICU, needed ventilators, or died. Doctors involved in the study say that the results suggest that after weight loss, patients are better able to fight the virus and if the results are confirmed by future studies, doctors can add this to the list of health benefits of bariatric surgery.


 PAHO, HCC, OECS, UNICEF launch regional campaign promoting Front-of-Package Warning LabellingThe Voice

A campaign to tackle childhood obesity and the regional epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) has been launched by the Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC), in partnership with the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS Commission and UNICEF. The campaign entitled – ‘Now More Than Ever: Better Labels, Better Choices, Better Health’ aims to mobilise public and policy maker support for the adoption of octagonal warning labels on the front of packaged foods to facilitate healthier food choices. Unhealthy diets dominated by processed foods are fuelling a rise in obesity levels and NCDs in the region. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the vulnerability of people living with NCDs and placed a significant strain on regional food systems. Voting across Caribbean Community Member States (CARICOM) to adopt the final draft of the CARICOM Regional Standards which incorporates front-of-package warning labels specifications, will run until the 14 April 2021.


Obesity, CVD, other factors mean 75% of US adults may be at risk for severe COVID-19 - Healio

Researchers have reported that according to CDC guidelines as many as three-quarters of the U.S. adult population has at least one risk factor for severe COVID-19 infection. Using data extrapolated from the 2015-2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey researchers found that 75.4% of U.S. adults, had at least one increased risk condition as defined by the CDC, 40.3% had at least two conditions and 18.5% had at least three conditions. Among adults younger than 65 years, 69.2% were estimated to be at increased risk. The most prevalent risk conditions as defined by the CDC were obesity (41.3%), age 65 years or older (20.2%) and chronic kidney disease (15.8%). The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Cardiology. 


Obesity behind spike in younger COVID-19 patients in critical care – Times of Malta

Many the younger COVID-19 patients currently in intensive care are living with obesity and often develop more severe complications because of excessive weight. Some healthcare professionals struggle to use mechanical ventilation on patients living with obesity, and Intensive Care Unit (ITU) specialists have also reported that people living with obesity are more prone to complications from using the equipment. According to official data published in January, two out of every five COVID-19 patients who needed a ventilator died. Maltese health care professionals are concerned that this trend will worsen because over a quarter of the Maltese population are living with obesity.


Obesity, drug abuse and depression in Flanders increased during coronavirus crisis – Brussels Times

General practitioners (GP) in Flanders diagnosed an increase in cases of depression, drug abuse problems, anxiety, obesity, and impotence since June 2020.The diagnostic data comes from the accumulation of data from Intego, a computer network of the University of Leuven (KU Leuven) that draws a picture of the overall health in Flanders every week based on the diagnoses of 400 GPs. The number of patients living with obesity increased by 200 percent in people over 40 in the last two months compared with the number of cases recorded in 2018-19. Doctors believe this increase may be due to people eating more comfort food to cope with the crisis and exercising less during the winter.


 COVID deaths high in countries with more overweight people, says report – The Guardian

Data from a landmark report by the World Obesity Federation has revealed that countries with high levels of overweight people, such as the UK and the US, have the highest death rates from COVID-19. Death rates are 10 times higher in those where more than half the adults had a body mass index (BMI) of more than 25kg/m2 – the point at which normal weight tips into overweight.  About 2.2 million of the 2.5 million deaths from COVID were in countries with high levels of people living with overweight. The report has prompted calls for governments to urgently address obesity and prioritise vaccinations for people living with excess weight.


Question mark over effectiveness of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in obese people - BioPharma Reporter

A study by a team of researchers based in Rome, Italy tested the presence of antibodies in people after two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The subjects were 158 female and 90 male healthcare workers aged between 23 and 69. Scientists noted a correlation between body mass index (BMI) and antibody presence, with subjects lower on the scale showing a stronger response. Younger people and women also had a higher concentration of antibodies. The researchers advised that if the results were replicated by larger studies, it would be worth exploring the option of giving people living with obesity greater doses of the vaccine. The study has not been peer reviewed and further research is required to corroborate the results.


‘Protect children, young people from obesity - Nation News

Caribbean paediatricians supported by the Healthy Caribbean Coalition community issued an open letter on World Obesity Day, calling for governments to prioritise strong policies that protect the health of young people to address the regional childhood obesity, undernutrition, and mental health emergency. The pandemic has led to an increase in the number of young people living with overweight and obesity. Undernutrition has also been exacerbated across the region, because COVID-19 control measures and food security challenges have led to interruptions in the national school meal programmes.


World Obesity Day: NGOs call on government to tax soft drinks – Blueprint Nigeria

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Nigeria are calling on the government to tax sugary drinks in Nigeria to address rising obesity levels. Nigeria has high consumption levels of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), with over 40 million litres sold yearly.  Around 4 million Nigerians are suffering from type 2 diabetes linked to excess sugar consumption. The Nigerian NGOS believe that the government should introduce a specific excise duty of 20% on SSBs such as soda and energy drinks and use the tax to fund the prevention and treatment of Non-Communicable Diseases. They would also like to see to see the introduction of warning labels on SSBs and a ban preventing SSBs producers advertising their products to children.


Coronavirus: Obesity and diabetes made US COVID-19 outbreak worse – study - News Hub New Zealand

Research has found that the US would not have had so many COVID-19 hospitalisations if levels of obesity were not so high. According to the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA), 30 percent of people hospitalised in the US with COVID-19 had obesity as a pre-existing condition.

Researchers found most COVID-19 hospitalisations could have been prevented if Americans did not suffer from four cardiometabolic conditions: obesity (30 percent), hypertension (26 percent), diabetes (21 percent), and heart failure (12 percent).The study used data from the 906,849 COVID-19 hospitalisations in the US as of November 18, 2020.


COVID-19 pandemic has ‘permanently affected’ Saudi shopping habits, says expert – Arab News

A new report has revealed that 65 percent of Saudi consumers said that they would be willing to pay more for foods and drinks that do not contain undesirable ingredients and 58 percent wish for more “all-natural” food products on store shelves. In Saudi Arabia healthier food is generally more expensive than processed or fast- food options and is seen as one of the factors contributing to the Kingdom’s high obesity levels. The increased demand for healthier food has led to companies in the region expanding the range of healthy and organic food products they supply.


Researchers report biomarkers that can predict severe Covid-19 outcomes

A new study from Yale Pulmonary Vascular Disease Program has found that a series of biomarkers, associated with white blood cell activation and obesity can help predict severe COVID-19 outcomes for patients. Yale researchers used proteomic profiling to analyse samples taken from 100 patients with different levels of COVID-19 severity. Researchers also examined clinical data for over 3,000 additional patients with COVID-19 within the Yale New Haven Hospital system. The study found that five proteins (resistin, lipocalin-2, HGF, IL-8, and G-CSF) that are associated with neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, were elevated in the COVID-19 patients who later became critically ill. Many of these proteins had previously been associated with obesity but not with COVID-19 or other viral illnesses.


Opinion piece

Karen Hofman, the professor leading the fight for healthy eating choices – Daily Maverick / South Africa

In this interview paediatrician, Professor Karen Hofman argues that the Health Promotion Levy in South Africa should be increased to reduce sugary beverage consumption and stem the rise of obesity and diabetes. Sub-Saharan Africa has become an important target market for multi-national food companies and as a result the continent has witnessed a surge in consumption of ultra-processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) – alongside an attendant spike in Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).  NCDs are burdening the developing world’s healthcare system and especially impact the poor, who are often unable to access quality care.  The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the critical importance of obesity prevention policies because in patients over the age of 30, most of those who die or are hospitalised with COVID-19 have diabetes and/or hypertension. The SSB tax is currently 11% which is almost half of the WHO recommendation of 20%.