Weekly News Digest: Obesity and COVID-19 - 21th September | World Obesity Federation

Weekly News Digest: Obesity and COVID-19 - 21th September

NewsWeekly News Digest: Obesity and COVID-19 - 21th September

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.


UK's poorest struggle to meet government nutrition guidelines (The Guardian)

An audit from the Food Foundation group indicates that healthy foods are not affordable for deprived families, likely contributing to major socioeconomic disparities in UK obesity rates. Fruit and vegetables prices are currently high and are only rising, which is particularly concerning as the COVID-19 pandemic has created food insecurity in many households. Government officials cite the National Food strategy recommendations, voluntary reformulation of products high in sugar, and Healthy Start Programme as possible solutions.

Obesity, On The Rise Nationally, Makes Coronavirus Worse: CDC (Patch)

People with obesity are more likely to experience severe disease and hospitalisation if they contract COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The organisation also conducted a survey of adults to determine obesity rates by state, with Colorado and Washington reporting the lowest obesity rates. Obesity was lowest among those with higher education, young adults, and white adults. Higher obesity rates in communities of colour paired with systematic inequities have led to higher COVID-19 risks for these groups. The CDC recommends that people follow healthy diets, exercise routines, and stress management techniques. It should be noted that the pandemic has likely led to weight gain on a large scale and the survey was conducted before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

County-Level Data Reveals Factors Related to COVID-19 Disparities (Health IT Analytics)

Us News and World Report and Aetna just released their Healthiest Community Rankings report. They were able to collect data about COVID-19 infection rates, unemployment, ICU beds, non-communicable disease levels, housing, and socioeconomic index by county using geocoding. They determined that disadvantaged communities and those with high rates of obesity (and related non-communicable diseases) experienced higher levels of COVID-19 infection and death. These results are supported by a similar study from the Harvard School of Public Health and highlight extreme health disparities within the United States.

Exercise hormone may modulate genes associated with replication of novel coronavirus (Medical X-press)

Scientists  at São Paulo State University found that a hormone called irisin (which is formed during exercise) may be able to prevent SARS-Cov-2 from replicating within cells by altering gene expression. They stress that these findings are preliminary, and more laboratory testing is needed before treatments are developed. Irisin is also a possible treatment for obesity as it is involved in calorie burning.

Possible link between obesity and severe COVID‐19 (Medical Journal of Australia)

Multiple studies have linked COVID-19 to worse outcomes form obesity, some suggesting it may be the most important risk factor after old age. The author urges Australia to take action to manage the existing obesity epidemic as well as those of other non-communicable diseases.

Obesity, ageing population behind Punjab’s high fatality rate (The Tribune India)

Many believe that the demographics of the Indian state of Punjab can explain the high death rate (approximately 3%) there. Namely, 25% of the population there is living with obesity, many have associated comorbidities, and 10% are elderly.

Obese people, diabetics at high risk of mortality from Covid-19: Doctors (Times of India)

Several studies have linked overweight and obesity to worse outcomes from COVID-19. Doctors attribute this to higher clotting risks and common comorbidities including diabetes. They recommend that patients pre-emptively attempt to make lifestyle modifications and that doctors think carefully before giving steroid treatment for anyone with diabetes.

78% of Kids Dying from Covid-19 In the U.S. are Black and Brown (Hip Latina)

Almost four out of every five children who have died from COVID-19 are children of colour- specifically, Black, Latino, or Native American. The study that reported this finding indicated that three out of every four children who died had a pre-existing health condition like obesity. Additionally, limited access to care because of insurance or parental work schedules may play a factor. These findings should be taken into account as schools reopen.

Testosterone as a possible alternative to weight loss surgery (Medical News Today)

A recent study presented at the European and International Congress on Obesity found that long-term testosterone treatment reduced body weight by 20% on average and waist size by 13 inches, which was significant. In addition, no major medical issues were reported by men in the treatment group, while over a quarter of the men in the control group experienced a heart attack and a quarter experienced a stroke while the study was taking place. These preliminary findings indicated that testosterone treatment may be a viable replacement for bariatric surgery.

Could interaction between Covid-19 and pre-existing bacteria explain severity in the obese? (Health 24)

A recent research article suggests that interactions between SARS-CoV-2 and bacteria in the lungs may explain severe disease and worse outcomes in people with obesity. The virus uses ACE2 receptors on cells to enter them and replicate, destroying the cell in all people. People with obesity experience constant low-level inflammation which, combined with the ruined ACE2 receptors,  may then allow bacteria that usually lives in the gut to leave and travel throughout the body, further taxing the immune system and leading to severe reactions.

Scots worried impact a second wave of coronavirus would have on food supplies (The National)

Almost three out of every four Scottish residents are concerned about the resilience of the food system in the face of a second wave according to a YouGov survey, especially considering the concurrent effects of Brexit and climate change. While food supplies throughout the UK have been generally stable since very beginning of the cases, residual anxiety is common. This has also led people to consider the future of the food system.

Covid crisis could see hot meal service dropped at schools (HOSPITALITY & CATERING NEWS)

Some UK schools are considering only providing cold meals for students given restrictions due to COVID-19. However, as almost all packed lunches do not meet the School Food Standards, this may be extremely detrimental to health, especially given the relationship between severe COVID-19 and obesity. Additionally, school lunches may be the only hot meal that children receive in a day.


Obesity is associated with worse outcomes from COVID-19 and heart disease, specifically atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rhythms). Researchers have found that people with more fat tissue around their heart are less able to send out electrical signals. There are no screening methods or preventative medications for this disease, treatments are limited and need to be repeated, and women are less likely to be diagnosed, although the researchers in this article suggest some possible avenues of exploration.

Cluster of risky conditions that can lead to heart disease is rising in Hispanic adults (Herald Review)

Metabolic syndrome is defined as a combination of three of the following conditions: obesity, large waist circumference, high levels of triglycerides, low good cholesterol, hypertension, and high blood sugar. A recent study shows that more Americans have developed metabolic syndrome, especially those of Hispanic descent, which may partially explain racial disparities in COVID-19 death rates. However, future research should examine subgroups within the Hispanic community more closely, especially young adults.

Keep children physically active during this lockdown period (New Vision)

Children are moving less due to COVID-19 lockdowns, which many believe may lead to a rise in childhood obesity. Obesity is rising 30% faster in developing countries than in developed countries. Exercise may improve mood, academic achievement, fitness, healthy bones and muscles and self-confidence. Several doctors give advice for encouraging teens to follow a healthy diet.

Maine Voices: For many kids, distance learning makes healthy eating a lot harder (Press Herald)

Distance learning may lead to diet-related diseases such as obesity. Digital platforms for students are full of advertising for unhealthy products marketed directly to kids, which can be removed by purchasing a subscription, further widening gaps between children whose parents can afford this and children who cannot. Advertising of unhealthy food to children is banned in schools but not online in the United States. While several companies have voluntarily removed their advertisements from these sites, the government regulation is needed to ensure compliance.

DepEd to deliver food to households under its feeding program amid COVID-19 (The Manilla Bulletin)

The Malaysian Department of Education has made major adjustments to its School-Based Feeding Program due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Notably, food will now be delivered to student’s houses, target students who were suffering from wasting in the lower grades, and include nutritious foods instead of hot meals. Additionally, funding limitations and school year changes have shortened the programme.

Biggest risk factors for COVID-related heart damage: age and obesity (Wink)

Doctors are reporting frequent heart problems like heart attacks, blood clots, fast heart rate, and irregularities in hearth rhythm in those hospitalised with COVID-19. The elderly, people with obesity, and people with existing heart conditions are at higher risk for these cardiac issues.

Smoking and obesity increase risk of severe Covid-19 and sepsis, new study suggests (Cardiff University)

A study of over 13,000 patients with severe COVID-19 found that genetic factors that made patients more likely to smoke or develop obesity put them at higher risk for severe disease and sepsis. Patients can reduce risk by quitting smoking and losing excess weight. Researchers took care to randomise their sample.

Obesity in the spotlight of COVID-19 (IGD)

This article provides an overview of the UK government’s work to fight obesity, including official publications from multiple agencies. The pandemic has reinforced the importance of tackling diet related diseases, causing the government to shift focus from childhood to obesity towards the prevention and treatment of obesity at all ages. A survey from ShopperVista indicates that people generally would like to eat a healthier diet and would use calorie information (although this does not extend to alcohol). It is less clear how the pandemic has affected exercise habits, with some people exercising more and others less.


Neoliberal obesity and coronavirus in Mexico (Al Jazeera)

According to journalist Belen Fernandez, Mexico’s high obesity rates can be attributed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which allowed the US to export ultra-processed food and sugar-sweetened beverages at massive scale. This idea is echoed by a Washington University Journal of Law & Policy which adds that Coca-Cola is cheaper and more accessible than water in some areas. This has been extremely detrimental to health, culture, traditional cuisine, and the livelihoods of many farmers. Oaxaca’s ban on selling junk food to minors, while a step towards limiting food advertising to children, fails to tackle the undermining reasons why people buy unhealthy products and will have a disproportionate effect on smaller retailers.

How to talk to kids about losing weight without them hating you (or themselves) (Today)

This article gives parents advice about talking about weight with their children in a non-stigmatising way. It first defines obesity and BMI, noting that BMI is an imperfect measure of weight and acknowledging the many factors that contribute to obesity. It then provides separate recommendations for children under the age of 10, emphasising on healthy diets, intuitive eating, exercise, and eating habits instead of weight specifically. Conversations with preteens and teenagers should centre around mindful eating, health, and body acceptance.

Why Having Obesity Can Put You at Greater Risk for COVID-19 (Cleveland Clinic)

Severe COVID-19 disease in those with chronic conditions has been well-documented throughout the past few months of the pandemic, especially for those with obesity. Dr Ali Aminian, Director of the Cleveland Clinic Bariatric and Metabolic Institute, theorises that this may be due to weakened immunity against infections, overactive responses to COVID-19 due to constant inflammation, comorbidities that affect the heart, higher chances of blood clots, and reduced lung function. People with obesity should be especially careful in following COVID-19 precautions now and after a vaccine is developed.

Can food help SA fight Covid-19: Nutrition (Biz News)

According to Professor Corinna Walsh of the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of the Free State, several nutrition organisations are calling upon the South African Government to address the dual epidemics of both under- and overnutrition, especially because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over a third of South African Women have obesity while 27% of young children are stunted. The pandemic has disrupted access to food, led to dramatic increases in food insecurity, and made obesity even more dangerous as it has been linked to critical illness from COVID-19. Multisectoral interventions must address underlying barriers in access to healthy food in a coordinated fashion that prioritises the most vulnerable and eventually leads to a high-quality universal healthcare system in combination with health education.

An Olympic effort is needed to improve Yorkshire’s health – Richard Stubbs (Yorkshire Post) 

Chief Executive of Yorkshire & Humber Academic Health Science Network Richard Stubbs believes that, rather than emphasising healthy lifestyle choices, anti-obesity strategies should target the underlying drivers of obesity, which include social, economic, and environmental inequities. The COVID-19 pandemic has been most deadly in deprived areas. Sheffield has launched a variety of interventions and funded recreation and research centres to improve population health and lessen inequalities while simultaneously boosting the economy.

The food system needs to be based on production for ‘need rather than greed’ (Agriland)

The Oxford Farming Conference Bitsize Webinar reflected upon similar problems faced by farmers in the 1970s regarding lower profit margins, trade deals, and food shortages. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the role of the food industry in health and the economy, so this sector is needed to combat hunger and malnutrition.

Poor diets are killing us – why aren’t more governments taking urgent action? (The Telegraph)

The Mexican state of Tabasco has joined Oaxaca in banning the sale of extremely energy-dense foods and sugar-sweetened beverages to minors in response to a major obesity epidemic and its association with COVID-19. Dr Kelly Henning and Dr Neena Prasad of the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Public Health and Food Policy Programs respectively advocate for evidence-based population-level interventions such as Mexico’s sugar tax and Chile’s labelling regulations. Bloomberg Philanthropies is committed to helping governments implement relevant public health programmes despite lobbying by major food and beverage companies.

OPINION: Can the COVID-19 crisis help reboot urban food in Africa? (Thomas Reuters Foundation News)

According to Johannesburg Mayor Geoffrey Makhubo and Executive Director of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group Mart Watts, challenges in food transportation and distribution, climate change, and rising unemployment have greatly increased food insecurity in Africa. Johannesburg has implemented short-term emergency food deliveries to the most vulnerable, as have other major cities in Africa, but they hope to create more long-term programmes to reduce food insecurity through urban farming, the development of more local food production that will limit carbon emissions, the improvement of food security, and increasing access to healthier diets.

Coronavirus: Sports bodies warn Covid-19 crisis could cause 'lost generation of activity (BBC)

Sports organisations are asking the UK government for recovery funds similar to those given to the art industry. Many employees of this sector have faced layoffs. Additionally, physical activity levels in the general public are extremely low due to the pandemic, and many hope that investment in sports programmes will help solve the British obesity crisis.

World leaders need to overhaul food production industries (Gulf Times)

The World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Living Planet Report 2020 notes that human activity has greatly disrupted the environment. Biodiversity has decreased substantially as a result of the overuse of natural resources and change in land usage. Food waste is a major contributor to carbon emissions. To reverse these detrimental effects, the powerful must completely change food production and consumption to increase sustainability and prevent deforestation.

The EU’s Farm-2-Fork and Green Deal: Are They More than Happy Talk? (European Scientist)

Major disruptions to the food chain due to the COVID-19 pandemic have led many to re-evaluate the effectiveness of the EU Farm-2Fork Strategy. Dr Kathleen Hefferson and Dr Henry Miller of the Pacific Research Institute (formerly the founding director of the FDA Office of Biotechnology) note that parts of the plan are incompatible with each other (increasing crop yields while reducing pesticide use and preserving crop biodiversity). Additionally, the plan does not emphasise biotechnology like genetic modification of crops, which can reduce the need for pesticides. Finally, the techniques promoted will lead to low crop yields, which will lead to less sustainable practices.

Whole Foods CEO says US obesity problem is about food 'ignorance,' not access (WFAA)

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, has been heavily criticised for blaming the obesity epidemic on health education rather than access to healthy foods. Social media posts have pointed out that Whole Foods is known for being fairly expensive, contributing to the higher cost of healthy foods as compared to the lower cost of ultra-processed foods. There is also some debate regarding food deserts.