Weekly News Digest: Obesity and COVID-19 - 17th August | World Obesity Federation

Weekly News Digest: Obesity and COVID-19 - 17th August

NewsWeekly News Digest: Obesity and COVID-19 - 17th August

We will be 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 every Monday during the current pandemic. If you have any stories from your country or discipline, please send through to us at eneeds@worldobesity.org.


A future coronavirus vaccine may not protect all at-risk populations

People living with obesity may be less protected by a COVID-19 vaccine, as they mount less of an immune response to other vaccines, although it may be possible to mitigate this effective with booster shots or other methods. It is therefore extremely important that those with obesity be included in vaccine trials (which they have not been historically). Obesity is a major health concern worldwide and has been linked to worse COVID-19 outcomes.

Five Opportunities To Impact Our Food System (Forbes)

This article recommends that people with a variety of skills engage further with the food system by buying food locally, investing in agricultural technology, sharing ideas about the food system with other actors, developing relationships with those from rural areas, and considering employment in the agricultural industry. Workers from other sectors should also consider how their companies are tied to agriculture.

How a pandemic has accelerated some food trends, while slowing others (Real Agriculture)

Consumer behaviour has been greatly altered due to the pandemic, with experts unsure of when else the food system has experienced this level of disruption. Canadian customers are adopting online shopping at much faster rates, although they are more likely to buy frozen food this way and tend not to buy meat online. Consumers are less worried about plastic packaging, more worried about food insecurity, and possibly more accepting of plant-based proteins.

How COVID-19 has impacted everyday life in America (The Weekly Journal)

This article uses data from the Household Pulse Survey to demonstrate how COVID-19 has impacted US residents by state. The heat maps span a variety of topics- those most related to obesity include employment, food insecurity, food shopping, and access to medical care.

USDA: 60% of North Koreans are food insecure (Korea Times)

According to a report from the US Department of Agriculture, an estimated 59.8% of North Koreans may be food insecure, which is extremely high. Border closures with China due to COVID-19, international sanctions, and flooding may account for these high rates. According to the UN, only 7% of households are adequately nourished, although food insecurity rates are expected to decrease to 44.9% by 2030.

Why global food systems should resemble those of the Indigenous Peoples (Global Landscapes Forum)

Some rural residents of India were able to resume indigenous practices when contemporary routes to food were disrupted due to COVID-19. Indigenous lands often have more biodiversity than the rest of the world and some tribes have been able to deposit native seeds in seed banks. Additionally, everyone can learn from indigenous knowledge as shared through various forums like the International Network for Indigenous Mountain Peoples and Indigenous Peoples’ Biocultural Climate Change Assessment Initiative. These practices will encourage biodiversity and resiliency in food systems.

Iraqi Food Security at Risk in a Year of Mounting Disasters (Future Directions International)

War, economic disruption, poverty, and low oil prices have left Iraq especially vulnerable to food insecurity, threatening funding for successful food aid programmes. Many residents have become unemployed or received lower wages as a result of the pandemic, which will contribute to poverty and therefore food insecurity.

How COVID-19 Is Hugely Impacting the Health and Well-Being of Low-Income Children (Well and Good)

Low income children are particularly vulnerable to the direct and indirect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. While many schools are trying to provide free meals, only 60% of eligible children have been able to receive these, and the number of food-insecure families will increase even more after government protections end. Low-income children may not have access to required technology, preventing distance-learning and use of telemedicine. Budget cuts may also end programmes that benefit low-income students. Individuals and policymakers must identify solutions at all levels to ensure low-income children are not disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Fixing the Covid Food Disaster Can Slash Climate Emissions (BloombergQuint)

Although many were optimistic about drops in greenhouse gases due to lockdowns, large-scale food waste from farmers unable to sell products to restaurants is still detrimental to the environment. Some organisations have focussed on connecting manufacturers, farmers, and families in need, such as the start-up Full Harvest. The government could help this programme by reducing liability for donated food and subsidising the cost of produce.

Local food producers and farm shops come to fore in lockdown (Mirage)

A report on demand for locally grown products during the pandemic from Dr John Lever indicates that people may seek these products out afterwards. Small-scale local farm shops have adopted a variety of methods to sell products. While they had previously been considered too expensive and too inconvenient, small farms helped fortify the food system during the worst of the lockdown.

#FeedTheNation: Growers hope veg box demand is here to stay (Farmers Weekly)

Demand for fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables has skyrocketed as a result of the pandemic. These are particularly important for those shielding at home. Farmers hope demand will continue after the pandemic.

A new anti-obesity coronavirus campaign is a nightmare for eating disorder sufferers (CNN)

Mandates requiring restaurants to display calorie counts as part of the UK obesity initiatives may be detrimental for those with or at risk of an eating disorder, as may criticise some of the stigmatising language used in the campaign. Most campaigners do support the exercise promotion and advertising bans. However, some fear it focusses too much on individual actions and not enough on underlying socioeconomic causes of obesity.

Health exerts slam Eat Out scheme saying it will encourage obesity (Diabetes.co.uk)

The UK government is subsidising the cost of eating out to help restaurants and promote spending under the Eat Out Help Out initiatives. However, as fast-food chains are taking advantage of the programme, anti-obesity campaigners are worried about its effect on obesity rates.

Cycling the ideal prescription for a green recovery from Covid (The Herald)

One idea for improving Scotland’s carbon footprint and obesity rates is to buy back cars and encourage cycling. Ministers hope to recover from the pandemic by investing in green initiatives, such as car clubs, mobility credits, or mobility hubs. Physicians may be encouraged to prescribe cycling for weight management as well.

18 Youth Inspiring Change Across the Food System (FoodTank)

This article discusses 18 different teenagers and young adults reforming various aspects of the food system across the world.

COVID-19: A threat to food security in Africa (UNCTAD)

Major decreases in food exports will contract African economies significantly, increasing food insecurity among agricultural workers. This is also paired with heavy reliance on food imports, which has led to price increases in some countries and therefore worsening hunger. It is recommended that Africa increase capacity-building, ease movement restrictions, and diversify the economy to reduce commodity dependence.

COVID-19: Role of nutrition gardens in ensuring nutrition for children (Down to Earth)

COVID-19 is extremely detrimental to children’s nutrition as it has disrupted family income and physical access to healthy foods, but nutrition gardens could be used to mitigate the effects of the virus on food security. Odisha faces high rates of child malnutrition (especially among tribal communities) and has therefore implemented several interventions, included nutrition gardens in rural childcare centres. One city, Kandhamal, faced challenges in building the garden, affording additional food, and transporting it to the centres, but was able to successfully provide nutritious meals for children.

Walgett in western NSW running out of food, Indigenous bodies tell inquiry (ABC)

Indigenous groups in Walgett, Australia are speaking out against food insecurity. The area’s main supermarket suffered fire damage last year and is currently unable to get most of the food it orders, which is then much more expensive for consumers. Additionally, the area lacks safe drinking water. Residents believe that these food insecurity issues are tied to high rates of non-communicable disease.

New study confirms fears that obesity poses dramatically increased threat of severe Covid-19 (Wales Online)

A study from researchers at University College London, University of Southampton, and University of Edinburgh found that increasing BMI was correlated with increasing chances COVID-19 intensive care admission. Data was collected from the UK Biobank study, so the sample included 334,329 people. As obesity rates are high in the UK, the government has implemented various anti-obesity measures.


School closures, lack of physical activity, increased consumption of carbohydrate-heavy foods, and missed appointments have led to weight gain among children in Turkey. The article includes a table of weight gain among 4 patients before and after the pandemic.

Fitness promoted as COVID-19 defence (Star Tribune)

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that people aim for 150-300 minutes of exercise weekly in order to prevent weight-related complications of COVID-19, as obesity has been linked to severe disease. However, doctors acknowledge that any level of exercise is beneficial, although people should consult their doctors before resuming exercise after having the disease and know extremely vigorous exercise can temporarily suppress the immune system.

One COVID-19 risk is obvious — so why won’t we talk about it? (Palm Beach Post)

Americans account for 25% of reported deaths due to COVID-19, although they comprise only 4% of the population, which may be due to high obesity rates. Vaccines may also be less effective in those living with obesity. Therefore, the US must examine the history of processed foods and their connection current connection to both poverty and food insecurity. The article discusses a variety of evidence-based treatments and obesity interventions.

Obesity Emerges as Risk Factor for Severe COVID-19 Illness (Yale Medicine)

Several Yale Medicine doctors have acknowledged the link between obesity and worse outcomes from COVID-19. Exactly why is unknown, but several promising theories exist. Experts say that, while some individuals may find success in dieting and exercising, more options like medication, surgery, and counselling must be made available.

Report: Pandemic changes eating habits (The Kansan)

The Eating Occasions Compass, a report detailing American eating habits, indicates that families are eating similar foods and similar numbers of meals during the pandemic than they were beforehand. Differences include more cooking at home as opposed to take-out meals (which is generally associated with healthier meals), eating with others more often, healthier foods being consumed earlier in the day and less nutritious foods later, more time spent preparing lunch, and increased reliance on delivery services.

Country assessments show effects COVID-19 crisis on food systems (Horti Daily)

Researchers from Wageningen University have conducted country assessments for Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Mali to examine the impact of COVID-19 on food systems. Major findings include that women without formal employment will face extreme challenges in returning to work, farmers will encounter difficulty in planting sufficient amounts for next season, and people will continue to have difficulty in accessing unprocessed foods. Partner organisations will use these assessments to inform their work.

Covid-19 & The Vulnerabilities of the Meat Industry (Yucatan Times)

Emphasis on efficiency in US meatpacking plants above all else has greatly contributed to the both cruel animal raising practices and the frequency of COVID-19 outbreaks there. However, closure of these plants devastates farmers by leading to a backlog of animals to be slaughtered, which is damaging to both parties. This part of the food system must be reformed- ideally by decentralising slaughterhouses.

York Region food bank calls on backyard growers to revive 'victory gardens' for fresh produce (York Region)

The Food Bank of York Region is looking to the past and asking residents to donate fresh produce from their own gardens. This follows initiatives by other cities to encourage gardening in the region, helping increase food security.

Black and Hispanic Americans at Higher Risk of Hypertension, Diabetes and Obesity: Time to Fix our Broken Food System. (Brookings)

Most data links hypertension, obesity, and diabetes with worse outcomes from COVID-19. This article describes racial disparities in these non-communicable disease rates, which experts attribute to systematic discrimination on a variety of levels. For example, although this article argues that obesity is “not a health condition in itself” (which World Obesity disputes), it notes that obesity is associated with a variety of comorbidities and is most common in Black and Latina women.

Toxic fat ad relaunched as junk food home deliveries double (Mirage)

Kelly Kennington, Prevention Manager of Cancer Council WA’s Obesity, gave a statement that Australian fast-food companies are capitalising on the lockdown in their advertising. In response, Cancer Council WA has released their own advertisement for wide distribution, as obesity can also lead to cancer. They hope to target sugar-sweetened beverages specifically.

‘It’s all new territory’: Are NFL’s ‘obese’ linemen at greater risk amid coronavirus pandemic? (Baltimore Sun)

This article questions if American football players would be at increased risk for COVID-19. While many players are considered to be living with obesity based on BMI measurements, their rigorous physical activity and lack of visceral fat may be protective against the virus. Nevertheless, some players are opting out of playing this year (as it is an extremely high-risk activity) while others are comfortable with NFL guidelines.

Ministers should fund research to help change unhealthy food recipes, says report (The Independent)

A report from Desmos proposes that, in addition to the recent obesity initiatives, the UK government must subsidise healthy foods and provide funding for food companies to reformulate products in order to make the plan more impactful. Over 70% of UK survey respondents supported these subsidies, demonstrating support for government intervention in obesity. Finally, it also recommends that all supermarkets be required to sell healthy items, more money be spent on plant-based protein research, and support be given to restaurants so they can develop healthier menus.

Coronavirus: Obese people may be told to stay home if second wave hits (The Independent)

In attempt to avoid another total lockdown, UK ministers may instead ask only vulnerable groups to stay at home, which includes those living with obesity. This corresponds to NHS guidance and anti-obesity measures in the UK.

Management Of Diabetes And Obesity In Covid- 19: API-ICP Release Recommendations (Medical Dialogues)

The Association of Physicians of India has released guidance for managing COVID-19 patients with diabetes.

How Kenya averted a food unrest in the wake of Covid-19 (Business Daily)

Multiple shocks to the Kenyan food system before the pandemic had left many residents extremely food insecure. The government came together with other major actors to determine the best way to boost the economy and monitor food prices in order to return the country to a state of food security. While agricultural workers were exempt from lockdowns, it has become increasingly difficult to find produce, so the government has distributed agricultural inputs to vulnerable families (with plans to create an electronic voucher system).

Why Cash Transfers Are an Efficient Method of Reducing Food Insecurity (The Elephant)

Due to widespread food insecurity and high levels of digital infrastructure, experts suggest that the Kenyan government pay directly into bank accounts. While food packages prevent recipients from being affected by price fluctuations, distribution is challenging in a number of ways. Therefore, cash transfers allow households to meet dietary needs and preferences. However, identity verification will need to be relaxes and policymakers must determine who will receive support based on changing data.


Point of View: Low-wage essential workers get less protection against coronavirus – and less information about how it spreads (Palm Beach Post)

A survey of essential workers in Massachusetts found that lower-wage workers were less likely to be able to practice social distancing or have access to adequate protection (masks, hand sanitiser, etc.) Low wage workers consequentially felt less safe and were more vulnerable to food insecurity, especially as wages did not generally increase due to the pandemic.

Coronavirus may shock us into dealing with a leading cause of death – malnutrition (The Independent)

Malnutrition in all its forms- which includes obesity- is the leading cause of death and disability across the globe and worsens outcomes in those with COVID-19. Author Leo Campbell (Co-founder of Modern Baker) blames sugary and ultra-processed foods for modern rates of overnutrition. He recommends that people avoid these foods and instead seek out healthier foods and probiotics, although he acknowledges that this is extremely difficult given the food environment.

Boris Johnson’s Junk Food Bans Could Tempt U.S. Policymakers to Get Tough (Forbes)

In response to his own illness and multiple studies indicating that a correlation exists between obesity and severe COVID-19, Libertarian Boris Johnson implemented a variety of anti-obesity reforms. Young Americans are demanding healthier products so similar changes in the US could be seen under Democratic Party leadership. Hank Cardello recommends that food companies cooperate with instead of fighting mandates, release public service ads, and aim for large goals.

An obesity strategy that stigmatises patients won’t work (CITY A.M)

Dr Ben Littlewood-Hillsdon, chief medical officer of Doctorlink, agrees that the UK must do something about its obesity rates but believes that the new policies are insufficient. Calorie labels and promotion bans do not adequately address obesity triggers, which would be better served through emotional and mental health support. Most detrimental, however is the stigmatising language used in the Better Health Campaign. The NHS is already under strain and it is unclear how the government will be able to add obesity treatment services.

Banning promotions on unhealthy food does not go far enough in tackling obesity (The Scottish Farmer)

According to Dr Cesar Revoredo-Giha, banning ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ deals on unhealthy foods exclusively will not do enough to curb obesity rates, as most promotions on these products are simply temporary price decreases. These promotions were actually decreasing in frequency within Scottish grocery stores. Additionally, disadvantaged households do not purchase promoted items statistically more often than those of other income brackets.

Time for Food Resilience (City Journal)

While many experts call for the decentralisation of food systems, this article argues that this would not work for major urban centres and instead calls for more flexible regulation, market platforms that identify food needs through pricing, and  technology and automation. Author and Professor Jayson Lusk believes that rises in family gardening will not have a marked impact on the food system.

Poverty causes obesity. Low-income families need to be better off to eat well (Guardian)

In this article, Larry Elliott explains a paper published in Nature that examines how obesity is closely tied to poverty due to stress, reduced access to nutritious food, and the proliferation of ultra-processed foods. As COVID-19 will significantly increase poverty because of economic disruption, reforms should emphasis poverty alleviation measures.