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

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

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

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 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.



There Has Been Drastic Rise In Obesity Among Children Under 5-Years In 20 States, Reveals NFHS 5 Report (Banega Swasth India)

The Indian National Family Health Survey indicated marked increases in rates of overweight and obesity among very young children. While two states and union territories have seen decreases in childhood overweight, the other 20 have experienced rising obesity rates in both children and adults. The article includes an interview with Global Nutrition Leadership Award recipient Basanta Kumar Kar, who discusses methods to alleviate obesity in India. Many experts indicate that these increases can be attributed to the proliferation of ultra-processed, unhealthy foods, lack of exercise, and COVID-19.


Ministry of Health announces priority groups for vaccination (Saudi Gazette)

Saudi Arabia has determined which people will receive the COVID-19 vaccine first based on health and profession. Those with severe obesity (as indicated by BMI over 40) will be in the first group to receive the vaccine. Those with less severe obesity are in the second group (out of three total). The rest of article provides reassurance that the vaccine is safe and describes some common, minor side effects.


Metformin Use Associated with Reduced COVID-19 Mortality in Obese, Diabetic Women (Endocrinology Network)

A large study (15380 patients) done in the United States found that women diagnosed with obesity and diabetes were significantly less likely to die of COVID-19 if they had been taking Metformin for at least three months. However, this effect was not seen in the overall study group or among men with obesity and diabetes.


Mexico’s COVID fatalities much younger than Europe’s (Yucatan Expat Life)

The median age of COVID-19 in Mexico is very young (55 years) in contrast to that in Europe (75 years), which is likely caused by the prevalence of underlying conditions like obesity. Mexico intends to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine very soon and distribute it to the elderly first. The Agriculture Department also found that dogs may be able to contract COVID-19 from humans, although transmission from dogs to people has not been confirmed.


The Devastating Overlap of Obesity and COVID-19 (WGBH)

This episode of the Innovation Hub Podcast contains an interview with Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy Dean Dariush Mozaffarian. He discusses what has been learned about obesity and COVID-19 since his first appearance on the podcast in June. He also advocates for lifestyle changes among people with obesity and comments on food justice as it pertains to the Black Lives Matter movement.


54 Million Americans Are Projected to Be Food Insecure by End of Year (Truthout)

More Americans are experiencing low and very low food insecurity as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as measured by multiple studies and projections. Both food banks and social programmes like the CARES act, SNAP, and the Pandemic Electronic Benefit do not do enough to alleviate food insecurity. Food prices have risen and the food supply chain has been disrupted while unemployment increases and schools are unable to provide meals. People of colour, especially African Americans and Native-Americans, and low-income families have been hardest.


Boris Johnson’s drive to cut obesity rates ‘largely ineffective’ (The Guardian)

A study from the Social Market Foundation reported that the COVID-19 pandemic had motivated only 28% of people with obesity to attempt weight loss, indicating that the UK obesity measures have not been particularly effective. They attribute this to the focus on individual responsibility for obesity and not socioeconomic status, lack of spaces for safe exercise, and the impact of COVID-19 on mental health. Additionally, the future of these measures is in question due to the disbanding of Public Health England.


Obesity and Covid: the unanswered questions (The Irish Times)

While there are some limitations of the studies linking obesity and COVID-19 severity, scientists have determined that they do seem to be correlated. However, more research must be done to determine if people with obesity are more likely to contract the virus in the first place. Additionally, obesity can lead to dysregulation of the immune system, but it is unknown if the suppression of cells that destroy SARS-CoV-2 or amplification of cytokines that lead to an overactive immune response is to blame for disease severity. The role of race and ethnicity in COVID-19 mortality also requires further research.


Why Africa’s COVID-19 Outbreak Hasn’t Been as Bad as Everyone Feared (The Herald)

Experts predicted that many more Africans would die of COVID-19 than have so far according to reported cases and excess deaths. They attribute this to experience with communicable disease outbreaks, no politicisation of masks, quick action to enact lockdowns, warm weather, and low rates of obesity or other comorbidities. Some also reference the hygiene hypothesis, which posits that people who are more frequently exposed to infectious diseases do not get as sick with COVID-19.


Study claims Covid-19 more deadly in obese people (IOL)

A recent study done by researchers at the University of Pretoria in South Africa found that people with obesity experienced more severe illness and higher fatality rates. They called for more anti-obesity initiatives to take place in South Africa, which has high rates of overweight and obesity. They also note that people with obesity are more likely to have co-morbidities and less likely to develop a sufficient immune response when given vaccines.


Unhealthy snacks will be banned from BOGOF promotions in 2022 (The Shields Gazette)

As part of Boris Johnson’s obesity scheme, supermarkets will be banned from using unhealthy foods for “buy one get one free” deals. This will encourage consumers to make healthier choices. These measures will be implemented in 2022 for large corporations only.


Influencers may face fines as China tackles obesity and food waste (The Japan Times)

The Chinese government has recently published a report on obesity rates in the nation. Over half of the population has either overweight or obesity, including 19% of children. The National Health Commission has publicly announced that sugar-sweetened beverages are a major driver of childhood obesity and plans to include more diet-focused interventions for the health initiative Healthy China 2030. The article also discusses plans to curb food waste.


U.S. diet guidelines sidestep scientific advice to cut sugar and alcohol (The Baltimore Sun)

While the American Dietary Guidelines were updated recently, those in charge chose not to recommend lessened sugar and alcohol intake or address societal issues like chronic disease and climate change. Some minor changes have been made (children under 2 years of age should not consume foods or beverages with added sugars. Breastfeeding is also encouraged to prevent obesity later in life.


Why Patients With Higher BMI Must Be Cautious to Stay Away from COVID (India.com)

Obesity may make an individual more susceptible to chronic disease or severe COVID-19 infection. In this article, bariatric surgeon Dr Aparna Govil Bhasker acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted sleep schedules and heightened stress levels. He recommends that people take care to exercise daily, maintain a healthy sleep schedule, and obtain bariatric surgery if their condition is severe.


How COVID-19 Hollowed Out a Generation of Young Black Men (ProPublica)

One in every 800 African Americans have been killed by COVID-19, which represents an extreme health disparity, especially in young Black men. African Americans are also far more likely to have obesity, diabetes, or other chronic conditions, which can be attributed to cellular changes caused by the chronic stress of living with persistent structural racism. This article shares the personal stories of several young Black men to demonstrate their experiences with the above issues.


A Recipe for Homemade Obesity: The Association Between Depression, Obesity, and Cognitive Deficits (Psychiatric Times)

Lockdowns are likely to decrease obesity risks directly and indirectly. This can occur through negative impacts on mental health and rises in depression, anxiety, and stress. Depression in particular is linked with obesity in that both may cause constant inflammation and cognitive impairments. Patients with either or both of these conditions may benefit from exercise.


Keeping Kids Active during COVID-19 (Society of Behavioral Medicine)

In this article, Noelle Mastrili and Dr Kristin Schneider, PhD, give suggestions for parents to safely encourage their children to exercise. They acknowledge that less than a quarter of children complete an hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day as recommended by the CDC.


Is obesity dangerous? Does Covid-19 risk increase with obesity? Can we control obesity? (Hindustan Times)

Individuals with obesity are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease and also other non-communicable comorbidities. The stigmatisation of obesity is unwarranted, as the disease is caused by a variety of factors, and people with severe cases usually are unable to control it through diet and exercise alone due to metabolic changes in the body. Obesity is diagnosed using measurements of BMI (Body Mass Index) and can be treated through bariatric surgery.


Higher BMI linked to increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection (News Medical)

Scientists at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine recently found that people with higher BMI were less likely to have specific types of immunoglobulin G (IgG), an antibody the body produces to fight infections, that can target the spikes of SARS-CoV-2. People with high levels of inflammation also produced less IgG than people without. This data can be used to develop more effective treatments for people with obesity and inform vaccine distribution.


How Stay-at-Home Orders Are Affecting Our Health (Very Well Health)

A study comparing health habits before and during COVID-19 found that those with obesity were more likely to report anxiety, weight gain, and improved dietary behaviours. Home cooking was increased in all participants, as was sedentary behaviour. People reported some behaviours that raise obesity risk. The article gives some recommendations for adopting healthier eating habits and exercising to reduce stress.


COVID-19 Vaccine Should Help Obese, Other At-Risk Populations (The Lund Report)

This is an interview with Professor Mark Slifka of Oregon Health and Science University regarding COVID-19 vaccines in people with obesity. As people with obesity have been less protected from other vaccines, which is likely tied to changes in metabolism, Pfizer specifically recruited patients with obesity as study participants. They found that people with obesity were just as well protected against COVID-19 as those at lower BMI. These findings should also carry over into the Moderna vaccine because it is the same type of vaccine.


‘Policy change, not charity’ required to address Canadian food insecurity: Trent Assistant Professor (Kitchener Today)

In response to overwhelming increases in food insecurity, Michael Classens of the Trent School of the Environment, Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems argues that food banks are unable to shoulder the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic alone. He points to supermarkets that donate excess food while their employees struggle to feed themselves and their families. Classens believes that food security should be publicly funded like the Canadian healthcare and education systems, which must be achieved though the involvement of politicians. He notes that stigma surrounding the reasons for receiving food aid makes policy change difficult.


OPINION | Who should get the Covid-19 vaccine first in South Africa? (Health 24)

This article details how South Africa has partnered with COVAX to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines among the most vulnerable residents in both lower- and higher- income countries. However, South Africa will decide how to distribute vaccines among its own citizens, possibly by prioritising those living with comorbidities like HIV/AIDS and obesity. According to Safura Abdool Karim and Aviva Tugendhaft, health equity is an integral part of the country’s constitution and should be a focus of vaccine allocation and community engagement efforts.