Welcome to the next weekly digest of stories about COVID-19 & Obesity for the 27th July.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article uses the story of a woman in Sheffield to demonstrate the socioeconomic inequities in who gets hit hardest by COVID-19, with more deprived regions of the area being affected most. Many health conditions, including type 2 diabetes and obesity, disproportionately affect those from lower-income backgrounds. COVID-19 has emphasized the need for reform in this area.
A fairly recent study done in Italy found that all people with excess weight, not just those with severe obesity (BMI over 40), are at increased risk of poor outcomes if they catch COVID-19 (although more severe cases of obesity is associated with higher death rate). This study has implications for government policy. Additionally, another preliminary research article identified a higher risk of blood clots in the lungs of those with obesity, possibly providing an explanation for the relationship between obesity and death rates.
As many have attributed COVID-19’s devastating effect on the US to high rates of obesity and other diseases related to diet, it is tantamount for the US to begin emphasizing food security and nutrition as part of health care. Hunger among children has increased rapidly during this period and much more government intervention is needed, especially among ethnic minorities.
The Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at Kwantlen Polytechnic University is conducting a survey to examine food insecurity in Ontario and is enrolling local residents. The aim of the study is to examine how the initial wave of COVID-19 changed grocery purchasing, access to food, safety concerns, and other consumer behaviour.
This article details the provisions of the UK government’s new anti-obesity measures. These include prohibiting advertising of unhealthy food on air before 9PM, banning some promotions and sales tactics for unhealthy foods, mandating that large restaurant chains display calories, and possibly requiring calorie labelling for alcoholic beverages. Additionally, weight management services through cycling and weight loss apps will be provided and the current front-of-pack food labelling system will go under review.
Exercise facilities are set to reopen on July 25th, but some safety modifications are required, others have been implemented by gyms themselves, and more can be done by individuals. Experts are worried about increased virus spread from heavy breathing and talking loudly. Many of these facilities have been hit hard financially by the pandemic.
This interview with President John Wildling, president of the World Obesity Federation, highlights some underreported aspects of the concurrent obesity and COVID-19 pandemics. Obesity is associated with depression, anxiety, and some other severe mental illnesses though weight stigma and trauma. The composition of the bacteria that live in the intestinal tract and help with digestion - termed the gut microbiome - is different in those with and without obesity, which may be due influence on appetite. Policy measures must take the underlying causes of obesity, associations with climate change, and limited access to adequate treatment (including existing effective medications and surgery) into account.
This article indicates that those with overweight and obesity are more likely to be hospitalized for and die from COVID-19. By examining hospital records of 812 patients, doctors determined that 70% of admitted patients had overweight or obesity and 82% of those who died had the same condition, which is higher than other studies. They recommend that obesity be considered a risk factor on par with age.
Boris Johnson has compared obesity rates of the UK to Malta for a second time, which has not been well received by the Maltese. Additionally, one UK official criticized BMI as a measurement and urged movement away from weight bias.
Nutrition in the USA can be improved through better research funding and coordination between studies. As mentioned in a recent study, government should create a new committee to control research across government departments while also increasing and overseeing current and future studies done by the National Institutes of Health.
Major shocks to the food system due to panic buying and restaurant closures have forced many to critically examine the current state of the food system. Welsh farmers are petitioning the government to prioritise sustainability and security in the food chain while maintaining competitiveness, possibly through the formation of a food and farming commission.
A letter to Boris Johnson, signed by eight directors of public health, urges government obesity reforms to focus on limiting obesity-causing factors in the environment. They warn against overreliance on physical activity, as it is an important factor but cannot reverse obesity trends without cultural change. Furthermore, they warn against focusing exclusively on personal choices instead of environmental factors.
COVID-19 has highlighted how susceptible the food system is to major shocks. The prevalence of hunger, malnutrition, greenhouse gas emission, lack of crop diversity, and transmission of diseases among species are all problems that must be addressed. The World Economic Forum recommends that changes focus on improving resiliency, preventing malnutrition in all its forms, implementing sustainable agricultural practices, and limiting deforestation.
CORONAVIRUS Government plans major obesity drive to help potential second COVID-19 wave (Diabetes.co.uk)
Several government officials have blamed the UK’s high mortality rates for COVID-19 on the prevalence of obesity. To prepare for a possible second wave of the virus, the government is planning to launch short-term interventions focused on diets and obesity treatment, with more long-term solutions to follow. Additionally, programmes should consider other health benefits that come with healthy lifestyles instead of BMI measurements.
Younger people living with obesity are more likely to be admitted to critical care wards if they contract COVID-19, according to a recent webinar. Additionally, fear of weight bias or inadequate care often leads those with obesity to avoid or delay treatment. Tom Hubbard of the Network for Excellence in Health Innovation advocates for increased coverage of telemedicine after the pandemic to expand access to obesity services.
Meridian Clinical Research is enrolling participants in a COVID-19 vaccine trial. They are specifically seeking essential workers, the elderly, those who have not previously been affected, and those living with chronic diseases (like obesity).
People are more likely to eat foods high in sugar, fat, or calories when they are financially stressed, according to researcher Jim Swaffield. He believes that this explains some obesity rate inequities in lower-income populations and women, rather than fast-food advertising. This study has interesting ramifications due to preliminary indications of weight gain during lockdowns.
The American military has recently defined diet-related diseases such as obesity as a threat to national security. Approximately one third of young adults are unqualified for military service because of obesity, which is already limiting the number of possible recruits for the armed forces and is projected to worsen. Obesity rates for very young children and those already in the military are increasing.
A telephone survey of Mongolian households indicated self-employed workers, farmers, and those in poverty were hit worst by the economic impact of COVID-19. Mongolia instituted many restrictions early in the outbreak, which did impact transmission of the virus but also increased food insecurity and financial concerns.
The government of Nigeria recently announced that they intend to give COVID-19 tests to over 5 million dollars, although no announcements were made regarding the logistics of this plan. They also plan to examine the agricultural research system, investing in agricultural and biotechnology to increase access to food.
COVID-19 has worsened existing food insecurity in Eastern Africa due to lockdown restrictions as well as economic turmoil, lack of remittances, and increases in food prices. The agricultural sector is particularly important in Eastern Africa. Additionally, the pandemic is still raging in the area.
The Public Distribution System provides subsidized staples such as rice, sugar, and wheat to households in India. A recent paper indicates that these specific foods may not provide adequate nutrition and encourages the Indian government to think of more long-term solutions. As COVID-19 exacerbates food insecurity, it is important to consider providing more nutritious foods at affordable prices.
A recent report by agricultural and nutritional experts published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recommends that federal governments provide more funding for nutrition research. Doing so will hopefully reduce the rates of chronic conditions like obesity, simultaneously saving lives and reducing healthcare expenditures. As nutrition is an extremely complex field, investment will inform USDA dietary guidance, study precision nutrition, and be integrated with other fields.
The OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2020-2029 Report indicates that, while COVID-19 is a clearly massive short-term disruption to the food system, in the long term the food system is not projected to keep up with population growth. Demand for non-staple foods and alternate protein sources will increase. Therefore, innovation, funding, better policies, and more inclusivity are needed in food systems to bolster resilience.
Texas is experiencing a major increase COVID-19 cases among all ages. Dr. Jamil Madi notes that the population his hospital serves is mostly Hispanic and a large proportion are living with obesity. Hospital staff are overwhelmed.
As part of anti-obesity reforms, the UK government is planning to expand access to bariatric surgery through the National Health System, as it is safe and effective. This may also lead to the reclassification of obesity as a disease, which it is currently not considered. The article also discusses Boris Johnson’s change of heart regarding public health interventions, weight stigma, and other associated reforms.
Increased funding for nutrition research can reduce inequities, reduce healthcare costs, and strengthen public health, among other benefits. An interview with Dariush Mozaffarian, Dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, indicates that increased focus in this area is timely due to COVID-19 and the recent decrease in research funding (despite the worsening of the obesity epidemic). Multiple experts from the school, the private sector, and the general public are working towards increasing research funding.
Income inequality is rapidly increasing in America, as many billionaires have benefited from the pandemic while unemployment soars. One out of every eight Americans currently receive food stamps following the largest expansion of the programme.
Food producers have been forced to rapidly transition away from catering and restaurant markets, which has led to major losses. Farmers with diverse crop yields and direct consumer sales have fared best, promoting regional and sustainable agriculture as a solution to regional food security. While larger farms will still likely be needed to feed the growing population, simplifying regulation and partnerships will help smaller operations.
Jaime Oliver, a celebrity chef from the UK, has created a plan to reduce childhood obesity through healthy eating, which he hopes will be included among government anti-obesity reforms.
As people with obesity are more likely to develop severe illness form COVID-19, other associated health conditions, and be less productive in the workplace, comprehensive strategies that target the true causes of obesity are needed for prevention. Additionally, these plans must also account for major socioeconomic disparities within obesity rates. Evidence shows that interventions which affect everyone are most effective and serve to reduce inequity.
Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes have been linked to complications and death from COVID-19. This is likely due to multiple reasons, including comorbidities (such as obesity), interactions between diabetes medications and COVID-19 treatments, and reduced beta cell function from COVID-19 leading to diabetic complications. More research is needed into how exactly SARS-CoV-2 affects blood glucose control and whether it itself can cause diabetes in previously healthy patients.
South Asian doctors have criticized the widespread use of BMI as an indicator of obesity, as it is inadequate in identifying South Asians at risk for metabolic diseases. A future tool specifically for these populations should factor in high blood pressure, high triglycerides in the blood, low HDL-cholesterol, increased weight circumference, and glycated haemoglobin (associated with diabetes). Furthermore, attention should be given to proper nutrition.
Health experts are reflecting on tobacco restrictions as a public health victory and hope to apply many of the same interventions and lessons to obesity prevention in the UK. These include plain packaging, restrictions on advertising, taxes, promotion restrictions, mandating display of calorie counts in restaurants, and health services for those with overweight and obesity. There will also likely be pushback from the food and beverage industry, so it is important for this to come as a government action.
This article compares Boris Johnson’s anti-obesity initiatives to Edwin Chadwick, nineteenth century champion of sanitation in industrial England. Obesity is a major health crisis within the UK, specifically among disadvantaged people and children, and all parts of the environment that encourage obesity must be considered in developing a comprehensive plan and then implementing it effectively. The UK’s sugar tax is another example of an effective and mandatory intervention.
The Australia’s Health 2020 report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare draws attention to increasing rates of overweight, obesity, and associated comorbidities among all age groups. Approximately 50% of people in Australia have a non-communicable disease, although this rate is higher in indigenous groups due to socioeconomic factors. Additionally, the report shows the economic cost of obesity to encourage cost-effective government interventions, including the recent expansion of telehealth.
A recent report shows that overweight and obesity rates are extremely high in Australia and have been increasing over the past few years. Preventative measures, such as those used for smoking cessation and car accident prevention, must be expanded to prevent obesity. Additionally, indigenous groups experience major health inequities, being three times more likely to develop diabetes.
While India does currently have enough cereal crops to feed its population due to a surplus, more must be done to ensure adequate nutrition for all, especially given future impacts of climate change and increased demand for more expensive foods. The author outlines an eight-step plan to ensure that this occurs including research, education on healthy eating, and government intervention. The eighth step is a healthy eating campaign to raise awareness, tax unhealthy products, and ban junk food advertising.
Lockdown has emphasized the importance and fragility of the British food system. According to MP Neil Parish, more attention must be paid to air quality, essential works, food imports and domestic production, and food waste. The British government has been redesigning agricultural policy, which will support British famers and environmental sustainability.
Author and Doctor Alexis Paton criticizes the UK response to COVID-19 in that it overemphasizes personal health behaviours and underemphasizes the underlying socioeconomic and environmental factors that lead to obesity. She advocates for well-funded government programmes and reforms to provide options for healthy food and exercise. Even if the British government not to make major changes to their approach, there are easy ways to make programmes more effective.
COVID-19 has forced many Jamaicans to eat out less, providing opportunities to promote healthier diets. As obesity is associated with worse outcomes from COVID-19, it is important to incentivise proper nutrition. The author recommends nutrition education, increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, food packaging regulations, and emphasis on local produce.
COVID-19 has emphasized food and agricultural workers as essential. The majority of Asian and Pacific farmers work smallholder farms, which are generally more adaptable than larger farming operations, although they also suffered major disruptions due to COVID-19 and other obstacles. Many governments are providing funds and developing reforms to ensure access to food. The Global Food Security Index recommends that financing programmes be more accessible for small-scale farmers, more investment be made in research, and agricultural technology be more widely adopted, in addition to encouraging public and private partnerships.