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The Global Burden of Disease Study indicates that, while life expectancy has increased, people tend to spend more of those years in poor health, mostly due to noncommunicable diseases. In Australia, high BMI was listed as one of the top five fatal risk factors, accounting for 18,700 deaths each year. The relationship between noncommunicable diseases, social disparities, and COVID-19 (that many experts refer to as a syndemic) make the need for healthcare reform more urgent than ever. Some suggest that general practitioners may be able to implement interventions against chronic diseases.
The economic ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic have greatly disrupted access to sufficient quantities of nutritious food for many across the globe. The World Food Programme must work with other organisations to continue to strengthen local food systems, support small-scale farmers, and distribute food to the hungry. In the Pacific region specifically, damage to the tourism sector and dependence on imported staple foods are of particular concern.
A recent study from the University of Southern California determined that children were significantly less active in the months after lockdown than in February. Not all children were affected equally- older children, children in minority groups, and children from low-income families tended to be more sedentary. Scientists are concerned that this reduction in exercise and rise in sedentary behaviour may lead to adverse health effects, including rises in childhood obesity.
A recent systematic review of 9 studies on COVID-19 and obesity determined that obesity was a risk factor for severe COVID-19 disease and death even when adjusting for age, gender, race, and major underlying conditions. This may be due to limited immune function, abundance of the tissue the virus can remain in, constant low-lying inflammation, or limited lung capacity. Multisectoral obesity interventions are needed to reduce overweight and obesity in Brazil (where the study was conducted) and throughout the world.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that overweight, not just obesity, may put individuals at risk for more severe COVID-19 infection. Some studies have been done that separated patients with overweight and obesity, with one determining that people with overweight may be at a higher risk of death but women with obesity were not. The article discusses BMI as a measurement of obesity and briefly describes the University of North Carolina review that linked COVID-19 and obesity.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently published a report on childhood obesity in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. They listed evidence-based recommendations for policy changes like raising the value of the SNAP programme and waiving some requirements for the WIC programme and approved of existing policies to allow schools to serve meals to all children during the school year. The report also found that childhood obesity rates vary based on state, race, and income level.
Instead of instructing all people above a certain age and with certain conditions to shield from COVID-19, the UK now recommends that physicians make individual recommendations for their patients based on their particular health. This guidance comes in the light of the dramatic increase on COVID-19 infections in the North of England and the Midlands. This may cause conflict with local officials who feel that they have not been adequately involved in this decision and those doubting the scientific merit of this strategy. Doctors hope to receive clear and specific instructions soon.
A survey of people seeking aid at food banks in Australia by Foodbank indicates that demand has risen by almost half, especially among international students and casual workers. While the majority of those visiting food banks (69%) have just recently lost their jobs, those who were food insecure before the beginning of the pandemic are receiving aid more often than they were a few months ago. This has occurred despite increases to welfare benefits- likely due to delays in claim processing and the usage of food banks by those who do not qualify for government aid. However, the Australian government has very recently chosen to reduce the coronavirus supplement, which may worsen the situation for disadvantaged groups.
In order to lower rates of obesity among children, the Spanish Ministry of Consumer Affairs will ban products high in sugar and saturated fat from being advertised to children on television or in print. Celebrities and influencers will also be prohibited from advertising these products. To do this, food items will be classified on a scale from A to E and foods below a C rating cannot be marketed to young children. Companies are urged to begin adjusting their methods of advertising by 2021.
Although eating a healthy and balanced diet is particularly important in the context of COVID-19, unemployment can lead to reduced purchasing power and reliance one less heathy foods. Fiji's Health Ministry recommends that its residents attempt to grow their own produce and shop locally.
It has been well publicised that the elderly are most at risk from COVID-19, but younger patients with underlying conditions may also experience severe disease. A study used hospital records of 3,222 patients between the ages of 18 and 34 to identify shared characteristics. 36.8% of these patients had obesity and 24.5% had severe obesity. Patients with multiple underlying conditions and those with severe obesity were at significantly higher risk of adverse outcomes.
This article includes interviews with six experts about the role of the American diet in severe COVID-19 infection. While overweight and obesity have both been linked to more severe disease, other countries with similar obesity rates have different COVID-19 statistics, so the social and economic context must be taken into account. Experts highlight the extreme health disparities between white Americans and minority groups, especially African Americans and Hispanics, which can be traced to overrepresentation in essential frontline work. The stress of the pandemic is increasing consumption of comfort food and schools have been unable to provide their usual balanced school meals. Ultimately, these experts believe that this is the best time for the US to start making healthy food more affordable through policy.
This article examines the importance of using clear, non-stigmatising language and fighting misinformation in news, on social media, and in public health messaging. Imprecise language can lead to fear, misunderstanding, or the devaluing of something- like confusion over elective and essential surgeries. Stigmatising language surrounding obesity is explicitly discussed, as are myths regarding the level of personal choice in the development of obesity. The author of this article is professor and author Dr Fergus Shanahan of University College Cork and Cork University Hospital.
According to politician Jordan Griffiths, the obesity crisis could best be tackled though policies that make healthy living easier and more affordable, encouraging healthy behaviours instead of penalising less healthy ones. Eliminating VAT (value-added tax) on healthy items could make them more affordable. Additionally, tax breaks for those at healthy BMI or those who have undergone successful weight management programmes may be useful in promoting exercise.