Weekly News Digest: Obesity and Covid 19 - 3rd August and 10th August | World Obesity Federation

Weekly News Digest: Obesity and Covid 19 - 3rd August and 10th August

NewsWeekly News Digest: Obesity and Covid 19 - 3rd August and 10th 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.


“The case for action on obesity has never been stronger” (Health Europa)

In response to high rates of overweight and obesity, links between obesity and COVID-19, and various plausible mechanisms by which the two may influence each other, Public Health England has launched the Better Health Campaign for UK residents. This is comprised of an app to help people track their calorie intake and exercise, set goals, and receive weight management education. Public Health England intends to promote the app more in lower-income communities as they tend to have higher rates of overweight and obesity.

Food security focus for major innovation project (Mirage News)

FOODTRAILS, a new project from researchers at Cardiff University, aims to address urban food security and improve resiliency in urban food systems. Over the next four years, 11 cities in the European Union will develop programmes unique to local needs in order to improve nutrition, sustainability, resource efficiency, and community empowerment.

There’s More Evidence That Black Americans Face High Risks from COVID-19 (Healthline)

Data from the CDC shows that African Americans have higher chances of getting sick from or dying of COVID-19. An additional study of 158 African American patients at Tulane University Health Science Center found that 76% of ICU COVID-19 patients were living with obesity, compared to 56% of patients with less severe disease.

Japan sees fewer COVID-19 hospital deaths than other nations: study (Kyodo News)

Japan has experienced an extremely low death rate from COVID-19 in hospitals compared to other countries. While some of this may be due to different admission criteria, low rates of obesity and diabetes may also play a role, as these are associated with more severe disease.  The survey also found age, sex, smoking, and noncommunicable diseases to be associated with disease severity.

Legislators Propose Universal Free School Meals During COVID-19 (Modern Farmer)

Many American families, especially Black and Hispanic families, have become food insecure as a result of COVID-19. A new bill, the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act, will provide free school meals to any child who asks for one, removing most existing barriers to eligibility.

In COVID-19–Hit Africa, Agricultural Research Feels the Pinch (The Scientist)
Lockdown measures in Uganda have forced agricultural scientists to delay or change experiments, in addition to incurring greater operating costs and shortages of laboratory equipment. Tanzanian researchers were unable to visit farms during the rainy season and Kenyan geneticists were had to adapt less effective methods of data collection on livestock. As COVID-19 is projected to greatly increase hunger, these developments are not ideal.

How COVID-19 is reshaping the drinks industry (New Food Industry)

According to the Executive Chair of Cracker Drinks Co, consumers have begun to buy fewer unhealthy beverages and focus on nutrition, which he believes will be a long-term by-product of COVID-19. Other trends include more delivery and fewer restaurant meals, less consumption of alcohol, and increased consumption of premium foods. Finally, consumers are becoming more conscious of the carbon footprint of their products.

Researchers examine food supply chain resiliency in the Pacific during COVID-19 pandemic (Phys.org)

Pacific island countries have been hit especially hard by disruptions to the food chain related to COVID-19 due to their far locations, importance of the tourism sector, and reliance on food importation. However, UC marine conservationist Jacob Eurich hopes to increase local production of crops and local fishing, ultimately reducing the length of the food supply chain. Establishing resiliency now will help these countries later as the climate continues to change and frequency of natural disasters increases.

UBCO researcher looks at food security during COVID-19 (UBC Okanagan news)

Joanne Taylor, postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus, is currently studying COVID-19 related food insecurity. She identifies loss of farmland, reduction in healthy soils, forest fires, climate change, and meat consumption as major challenges to the already unstable food system. This will affect many due to reductions in purchasing power from COVID-19, so she recommends that people support local farmers and begin gardening in their homes.

COVID-19 has hit SMEs in South Africa’s food sector hard. What can be done to help them (The Conversation)?

Small and medium sized enterprises, including those in the food and beverage industry, dealt with major disruptions to inputs and distribution throughout the pandemic, especially among those that sold to the non-retail sector. As they often target under-resourced markets and provide a source of employment for people in rural areas, layoffs and insufficient government aid were particularly concerning. In the future, retailers should form partnerships with small and medium sized businesses, businesses and governments should establish diverse routes to market, and emergency aid programmes must be improved.

Obesity Tied to Severe COVID-19, But Age Matters (WebMD)

Multiple studies show that younger people with COVID-19 tend to get sicker if they contract COVID-19. This phenomenon may be caused by impaired lung expansion, low-level inflammation, or associated co-morbidities. Doctors recommend that those with obesity follow social distancing recommendations closely.

How Are The Children In India Receiving Their Mid-Day Meals Amid The COVID-19 Pandemic? (Banega Swasth India)

India’s Mid-Day Meal programme has successfully increased school attendance and will be continuing despite school closures and summer holidays. Implementation surveys found that only about 60% of children eligible for the scheme received the meals, as it is delivered on a district-wide basis. Rural districts seem to have higher distribution rates than urban ones due to fewer outbreaks and therefore fewer locked down zones.

Obesity in Scotland: The impact fast food chains may have on the £10 meal discount scheme (The Press and Journal)

According to Obesity Action Scotland, almost 30% of Scottish residents ate more fruits and vegetables during the lockdown and almost 50% ate more confectionery, while 63% were concerned about their body weight. This organisation, among other anti-obesity campaigners and concerned citizens, were dismayed to find that fast food outlets were included within the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. A Scottish bill to restrict unhealthy food promotions was delayed until next May as a result of the outbreak.

UK government's bans on junk food advertising split opinion (XinhuaNet)

While physicians praise the multi-component nature of the UK’s obesity strategy, advertisers and food companies are extremely worried given the economic impacts of the pandemic, possibly necessitating layoffs. It was suggested that the portrayal of obesity as an immediate problem instead of a chronic illness explains the speed of reform.

Mexico state bans sale of sugary drinks and junk food to children

Oaxaca has passed a bill to prohibit children from buying some unhealthy foods and drinks in response to high obesity rates and COVID-19. While the food industry claims that these measures will lead to economic disruptions and others worry that this distracts from failures to contain COVID-19, it is important to reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption to prevent diet-related diseases. Existing sugar taxes have also been effective at reducing intake.

Legislative study looks to avoid future ag food supply disruptions (Star Herald)

A senator in Nebraska has commissioned a study into the impact COVID-19 has had on the state’s food system. In the future, the results may be used to mitigate the effects of other crises and make the food system more resilient.

Food menu fit for pandemic time (Medical X-Press)

Flinders University in Australia held an online course to educate 47 students and staff about sustainability in the food system, which was successful in increasing knowledge among students. COVID-19 has emphasized the failings of the global food system. As a result, food literacy is urgently needed to alter consumer behaviour.

US obesity epidemic could undermine effectiveness of a Covid-19 vaccine (CNN)

Based on immune responses to other vaccines, people with obesity may not be as protected by COVID-19 vaccinations as those of healthy weight. Obesity and overweight cause a constant state of inflammation, preventing vaccines from working effectively within the body. In the future, more studies should be done on how best to create effective vaccines for those living with obesity and they should be included in more vaccine trials.

COMESA COVID-19 Food Security and Nutrition Plan Adopted (COMESA)

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa has agreed on a plan to support agricultural research, increase resiliency in the food chain, and increase trade.

A Hunger Crisis Rises Amid COVID-19 (Borgen Magazine)

Through decreased food production, difficulties in food distribution, and job losses, COVID-19 will greatly increase hunger throughout the world. The elderly, those with disabilities, women, children, and those from developing countries are at the greatest risk. Investments, donations, and charitable organisations are urgently needed to prevent the worst of the projected crisis.

Obesity Can Worsen COVID-19 Outcomes: A Plant-Based Diet Can Help (Plant Based News)

People who follow a vegan diet are less likely to have overweight or obesity and consume less saturated fat. This is particularly important as people with obesity are more likely to get severely ill if they contract COVID-19.

Obesity not defined by weight, says new Canada guideline (BBC)

Canadian clinical guidelines published recently aim to reduce weight stigma by instituting new diagnostic criteria for obesity. Additionally, it highlights the role of social, economic, and environmental factors in causing the disease. A variety of treatments are recommended beyond just changing diets and instituting exercise- doctors should provide referrals to therapy and/or bariatric surgery in addition to medication.

Coronavirus: Need for food banks, gardens rising as pandemic halts supply (Enterprise-Record)

Food insecurity is increasing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as shown by trends in applications for various forms of local, state, and federal food aid. Harvests across the world have also been impacted. Therefore, some recommend that the public becomes more involved in individual and community gardens.

State COVID-19 Aid Likely Helped Farmers Left Out of Federal Programs (WPR)

A state COVID-19 relief package was able to aid a variety of specialty, smaller, and newer farms in Wisconsin, filling a needed gap in federal funding. Most payments were doled out to farms in a few counties with high amounts of agriculture. Applications are currently being accepted for a second payment.

Shoppers urged to be patient as Victorian coronavirus restrictions impact food supply (ABC News Australia)

Rises in COVID-19 cases in Victoria, Australia have necessitated a second lockdown, once again impacting manufacture and distribution of food products. As a result, residents are highly encouraged to avoid panic-buying although they may face shortages of some foods, especially meats. Supply chain issues should not last as long as they did during the first time due to the limited geographic location of the second outbreak, although this does call the ‘just in time’ food system practice into question, and people may be unable to afford necessary products due to economic challenges.

How obesity link has worsened chances of COVID-19 patients (The Standard)

This article summarises the current theories behind mechanisms linking obesity to worse outcomes of COVID-19. These include increased amounts of ACE2 receptors on fat cells (which the virus needs), reduced respiratory function, disruption of the immune system, and greater difficulties in patient management. The author also mentions the role of the food industry in the obesity crisis.

African American BMI associated with severe COVID-19 and ICU admission (Medical X-press)

A study of 158 African American patients hospitalised with COVID-19 found that old age, high BMI, and existing lung disease increased the risk of needing admission to intensive care. As African Americans are more likely to contract, get sicker, and die from COVID-19, this study emphasizes the need to address health disparities caused by structural racism.

How COVID-19 killed America’s favourite diet (Fast Company)

The ketogenic diet, which emphasizes low carbohydrate intake to induce weight loss, had been growing in popularity before COVID-19 hit. However, the stress associated with the pandemic has led to increased consumption of flour, alcohol, and other carbohydrate-heavy items.

New initiatives aim to reduce food waste and tackle food insecurity (News Hub)

The government of New Zealand has funded five initiatives to create an online platform for farmers to sell extra products, provide boxes of fresh produce to vulnerable residents, a platform for small-scale fisherman to sell directly to customers, a platform for local farmers to sell directly to consumers and associated delivery service, and more support for food pantries through the ‘Meat the Need’ programme. These long-term initiatives allow for the prevention of food waste and tacking of food insecurity.

Extra weight can be a deadly complication when fighting COVID-19 (News Tribune)

Doctors and morticians have noticed that people with obesity seem more at risk of death from COVID-19, especially younger ones. The article briefly discusses inflammation, reduced lung function, and more ACE2 receptors as possible reasons. While some have urged Florida to keep open gyms, others also acknowledge the role of genetic and environmental factors in the development of obesity and many encourage greater personal use of COVID-19 prevention methods.

Five ways to reboot the global food economy to make it healthier for all (The Conversation)- opinion

Malnutrition in all its forms reduce economic productivity and are expensive for the healthcare system. To rebuild the food system, subsidies and financing must be given for the production and distribution of healthier products to reduce consumer cost. Additionally, advertising regulations on unhealthy products through government mandates or company purpose to increase health are useful. More data is needed to determine how well food companies mitigate the effects of obesity. Finally, hospitals, prisons, and other similar institutions must prioritise healthy meals.

The US food system is killing Americans (CNN)- opinion
Several experts from different professions agree that the US food system was originally designed to increase calorie consumption in response to undernutrition affecting military recruiting during World War 2. However, while the food environment has changed, food aid programmes have not significantly changed since then since then, leading to a major epidemic of obesity, metabolic disease, and other diet-related diseases within the USA. The authors recommend implementing cost-neutral incentives for fresh produce and disincentives for sugar-sweetened beverages within the SNAP programme.

South Africa needs better food price controls to shield poor people from COVID-19 fallout (The Conversation)

The closure of the informal food sector due to COVID-19 restrictions, the price increases for staple foods, the widespread unemployment, and the insufficiency of aid programmes have led to hunger throughout South Africa. While data is limited, sources show that prices of staple foods are rising. To remedy this, the government must limit price increases on a variety of staple foods.

Does obesity make coronavirus more deadly? (Gulf Today)

This article briefly explains some evidence behind the association of obesity and poor COVID-19 outcomes, citing experts and studies. It quotes several experts, including World Obesity, to discuss possible reasons behind this link, including co-morbidities, lack of oxygen, and hospital care of those with obesity.

Eat out to help out: Coronavirus scheme offering UK diners 50% off begins (BBC)

In addition to the Better Health Campaign, the UK has launched a ‘Eat out to help out’ programme in order to bolster the economy and preserve food industry jobs. Critics question why major fast-food chains and unhealthy products are included in the scheme, as the UK has acknowledged the link between obesity and worse COVID-19 outcomes.

The UK Launches New Obesity Strategy: How Does it Compare with Measures Elsewhere? (Slow Food)

Slow Food considers the Better Health campaign and other anti-obesity reforms to be overdue in the UK but ultimately not extensive enough in addressing the underlying drivers of obesity. Calorie counts on US restaurant menus have led to slight decreases in calorie consumption. While the advertising industry argues against restrictions on marketing to children, many countries have implemented some guidelines. Sugar taxes, restrictions on deals for unhealthy foods, and prohibitions on junk food at counters are promising but require mandatory action instead of voluntary promises.

Four reasons the UK government’s obesity strategy may not work for everyone (The Conversation)

This article outlines some major flaws in the UK’s anti-obesity scheme, including that it fails to target all the causes of obesity, does not increase the availability of healthy options, relies somewhat on calorie labelling without providing proven methods of behavioural change, and fail to utilise specialists to provide weight-management services tailored to each individual. Some of the reforms, like calorie labelling and advertising restrictions, are not projected to prevent consumption of many calories.

For Asian Americans, food deserts encompass both income and culture (NBC News)

Access to culturally acceptable foods has been disrupted by COVID-19, as job losses or transportation restrictions prevent people from visiting specialty grocery stores. Organisations such as API Forward Movement that target Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders help fill this gap, as many participants live in food deserts and rely on food banks which may not provide these specific foods.

Covid-19 and Pakistan's raging NCD crisis (Dawn)

Developing nations deal with the double burden of disease- they tend to suffer high rates of both communicable and non-communicable disease, including obesity, due to globalisation, urbanisation, and major changes to the average lifestyle. In Pakistan, chronic diseases cause around 58% of deaths as risk factors for these diseases (such as unhealthy diets) are growing. New measures are needed to regulate and tax food products, reduce smoking, eliminate dangerous fats such as TFA, and detect noncommunicable diseases in primary care.

Food Protectionism and Nationalism in the Age of COVID-19 (The Elephant)

Kenya relies on imports for its food system, which could be dangerous given shocks to the global food system due to COVID-19 and subsequent protectionist policies of exporters. While the agricultural sector is large, mismanagement in various levels of state and local authorities have damaged the sector, leading to lower yields and therefore necessitating more food imports. Certain foods are produced mainly in various areas inside and outside of Kenya and disruptions to the transportation of food due to COVID-19 left prices high, harming people in urban settings and the most vulnerable. This article criticizes food nationalism and predicts the food system will change significantly.

How Covid-19 has exposed inequalities in the UK food system (Emerald Group Publishing)

This episode of the Emerald Podcast Series examines the impact of COVID-19 on the British food system, including food insecurity, changes in consumer behaviour, and the role of food banks. The guests in this episode include York Management School Professor Bob Doherty and ESRC Post-doctoral Fellow Madeleine Power.

Coronavirus can prove dangerous for people with these health conditions (Times of India)

This article details multiple non-communicable diseases increase the risk of developing severe COVID-19 after infection, including obesity. It cites inflammation and reduced respiratory function as possible reasons for the increased risk for COVID-19, as well as the increased risk for developing other chronic conditions. Other mentioned risk factors for COVID-19 severity include diabetes, cancer, hypertension, kidney disease, and COPD.

Boris Johnson Takes On Britain’s Bulging Waistline (Forbes)

This article briefly the context behind the UK’s Better Health Campaign. It also mentions several components, like changes to urban design to promote cycling. The author is cautiously optimistic about the timing of this intervention in promoting change but acknowledges the major societal changes and wealth gap that underly obesity, fearing that these root causes may not be tackled.

Why is obesity a leading predictor to COVID-19 hospitalizations (WLOX)

Researchers from the American South observe obesity as a “leading predictor of who would get admitted to the hospital with COVID” and “underlying condition in many of these cases.” Studies to determine why have focused on leptin, a hormone that controls appetite and the immune response. As no current treatments exist to reduce levels of this hormone directly, weight management is the best way to lower leptin levels.

Britain Must Offer More Free School Meals to End Food Poverty: Report (Global Citizen)

The National Food Strategy aims to tackle childhood hunger by expanding free meals at school and during the summer holidays, especially given the prevalence of food insecurity as a result of COVID-19. Additionally, the value of Healthy Start vouchers should be increased and the programme should also be expanded to ensure access to fruits and vegetables. Finally, trade deals after Brexit should incentivise environmental standards internally and externally.

Governments fight global obesity, a Covid-19 risk factor (Free Malaysia Today)

In addition to the UK, various countries (including France, The United States, The Netherlands, Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Chile) have implemented programmes to fight rising obesity rates. These have included labelling mandates, promotional restrictions, taxes, and school-based interventions.

Food tax frenzy: Sugar taxation still ranked as most effective for public health compared to salt, fat and junk food (Food Navigator Asia)

A recent study modelling various noncommunicable disease interventions in New Zealand found that taxes on sugar content were most effective in reducing diet-related disease incidence and increasing the number of years people could live in a healthy state. Researchers recommend multiple interventions be launched together to best improve health. While the science is clear, pushback from the food and beverage industry, politicians, and the general public can prevent implementation.

Black urban farmers in the U.S. sow seeds to end 'food apartheid (Reuters)

Karen Washington helped create both the Black Urban Growers organisation and the concept of ‘food apartheid’ to describe how Black Americans have unequal access to healthy foods. African Americans are discriminated against at multiple levels of food production and only compose 1.3% of the farming community. Where people live has a major impact on the type of food they have access to and how long they live, as 17.7% of Americans live in food deserts.

MPs say government must appoint food security minister in wake of pandemic (The Guardian)

Several MPs have recommended that a position for the minister of food security be created. They believe that the UK food system was inadequate in responding to shocks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and fear that Brexit and climate change will continue to provide challenges. Additionally, more must be done about food insecurity in the British public.

IFPRI Publishes Book Addressing COVID-19 and Global Food Security (Food Tank)

The International Food Policy Research Institute will launch a book titled ‘COVID-19 and Global Food Security’ on August 4th. It will examine the intersection of COVID-19 and employment, gender, food security, and poverty, based on blog posts released on the organisation’s website.

Poor nutrition, reduced physical activity during COVID-19 lockdown adversely affected England’s mental health (News Medical)

The Unit for Biocultural Variation and Obesity released survey results from 800 participants indicating that English people in lockdown were more likely to binge eat, consume heavily processed foods, and drink alcoholic beverages. Additionally, almost half of participants decreased their physical activity and many young adults reported mental health issues.

Coronavirus: An end to the obesity crisis? The consequences of this pandemic are more likely to make us fatter (The Herald)

Boris Johnson’s anti-obesity initiative is very similar to Scotland’s prospective Restricting Food Promotions Bill, which was paused in the legislative process due to COVID-19. As multiple studies have linked obesity to severe cases of COVID-19, intervention is needed. However, it is also essential to reduce inequity and implement preventative measures given rising rates of childhood obesity in deprived regions.

National food strategy set out: banishing pollution and poverty for sustainability (The Guardian)

Experts have drawn up a temporary food strategy to both fix major inequities in access to unhealthy food and ensure high quality standards after Brexit. Those from deprived areas are more likely to have obesity, but this disease affects those of all income levels, in part due to the food culture of Britain. Additionally, more people will be food insecure after the pandemic, which can be mitigated with expansions to several aid programmes but ultimately will exist as long as poverty does. Finally, new laws governing food imports after Brexit could allow the UK to incentivise sustainability.

Plan to get more bikes on road wobbles as UK tackles obesity (Star Tribune)

The British government has chosen to promote cycling by offering vouchers for residents to get bike repairs, capitalising on the increase in biking due to COVID-19. Unfortunately, people were unable to access the website to receive their vouchers due to technical difficulties.

National Food Strategy issues urgent call to action (Food Manufacture)

This article summarises the main points of the National Food Strategy published on July 29th. It lists the key recommendations of the report, including the expansion of existing programmes, the role of tariffs in maintaining food standards, and the generation of other independent reports. It also quotes the sections of the Strategy that focus on COVID-19 and how it is the most major shock to the UK food system since World War II.

Boris Johnson’s new tactic against Covid-19: Urge Britons to lose weight (The Indian Express)

The obesity crisis is a personal issue for PM Boris Johnson, as he himself was hospitalised with COVID-19 and believes the severity of his illness was due to excess weight. As a result, he has gone against his generally libertarian views to promote an obesity reduction scheme for the entire UK, targeting food advertising, supermarket deals on unhealthy foods, and larger restaurants. Doctors approve of the strategy, but the food industry is sceptical.

Child nutrition and COVID-19 (UNICEF)

COVID-19 is worsening malnutrition in children, as they are missing school meals, cannot access health and nutrition services, and they may be more food-insecure. UNICEF is using existing data and creating ways to safely collect new data to best allocate resources.

Unhealthy diets are ‘slow-motion disaster’ (BBC)

This article focuses on food items with misleading packaging, causing consumers to assume they are healthier than they are, as mentioned in the National Food Strategy. Additionally, it mentions the expansion of nutritious school meals. As overconsumption of unhealthy foods is the main risk factor poor health in the UK, it is important to ensure nutritious food availability for children.

Obesity: Have 20 years of policies had any effect? (BBC)

This article reviews various interventions implemented across the UK and their effect, including mandatory physical education in schools, the 5-a-day campaign to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, and the sugar tax. Additionally, children from deprived areas are more likely to have obesity. Survey data indicates the overall obesity rates are stabilizing but childhood obesity is increasing

Calorie labelling to cost British businesses ‘tens of millions’ each year (CITY A.M.)

Impact reports indicate that calorie labelling requirements, introduced as part of the sweeping anti-obesity measures in the UK, will cost approximately 2.2 billion pounds over 25 years for businesses, saving the NHS 4 billion pounds and the public 5.7 billion pounds. Businesses criticise the timing of this movement, possibility of harm to those with eating disorders, and lack of support to individuals undergoing weight management treatment.

UK fights obesity with ad bans, more calorie labels (The Straits Times)

The UK’s Better Health Campaign is designed to mitigate the obesity pandemic by prohibiting advertising of unhealthy foods, mandating calorie counts to be displayed on products in stores and restaurants, and limiting “buy one get one free” promotions on unhealthy foods. Advertising bodies are unhappy with the plan, but Boris Johnson believes that it is necessary without being excessively controlling.

‘Buy one get one free’ deals on snacks could be banned to combat obesity (Boston Standard)

As indicated through Public Health England’s research (and others across the globe), people with obesity are more likely to end up in intensive care or die if they catch COVID-19. New rules on promotions of junk food in stores have been announced, while experts are still deciding whether to ban online advertisements, change traffic light nutrition labels, ban ‘buy one get one free deals’ and place calorie counts on alcohol.

Boris Johnson says he was ‘too fat’ when he contracted Covid-19 (The Irish Times)

Boris Johnson has been promoting the UK’s new anti-obesity plan through a video detailing his personal experiences with weight management and COVID-19. Some are concerned that this messaging, as well as the policies chosen, may place too much emphasis on personal choice in obesity and not enough on environmental factors that encourage obesity. While there are no current plans to alter the existing sugar-sweetened beverage tax, the junior health minister is hopeful for reform after disruptions to regular routines through COVID-19.

Review: Global Food Insecurity set to rise because of COVID-19 (Factly)

Global food insecurity was projected to increase even before disruptions due to locusts and COVID-19. Now, setbacks will be even greater, likely almost doubling the number of food insecure people. Food prices will increase but employment will decrease, leaving people unable to afford healthy food (if any) and therefore encouraging consumption of long-lasting, processed food. The Food and Agriculture organisation provides several policy recommendations for countries to mitigate increases in food insecurity.

Childhood obesity and COVID-19 can be a dangerous mix (Herald Tribune)

As children tend to maintain weight during the school year and gain weight in the summer, the increased time out of school may lead to increased numbers of children living with overweight and obesity. As obesity is a major risk factor for death from COVID-19, this is particularly alarming. Additionally, food insecurity is projected to rise as a result of economic ramifications of the pandemic, which is also tied to overweight and obesity. Food banks and government aid programmes are integral in providing kids with healthy food.

COVID-19 pandemic has affected food security and sustainability (Independent Australia)

While COVID-19 has disrupted food production and income for many across the world. It has also led to a renewed focus on self-sufficiency. This article interviews several permaculture practitioners, a method of cultivation that emphasizes a “whole-system design approach” to create sustainability and self-sufficiency, who have directly observed the increased interest in farming and hope to expand the practice, one through speaking at a regional food festival.

Citing his own weight battle, PM urges Britain to get fit (Reuters)

The UK government has released the anti-obesity measures they have been hinting at for some weeks now. These include restrictions on unhealthy food advertising before 9PM, bans on some promotions on unhealthy food, and mandates that restaurants display calorie counts. These reforms have been inspired by Boris Johnson’s own struggle with COVID-19 and obesity, which has helped him realise the importance of reducing obesity despite his worries about excessive government intervention. However, political opponents are citing past public health budget cuts as a concern for the implementation of new policies.

UK announces to fight obesity to tackle future COVID-like health crises (The Asian Age)

This article summarizes the new UK plan to reduce obesity rates across the country. It also mentions that Boris Johnson released a video on Twitter detailing his experiences with obesity and reassuring the public that this plan is not government overreach.

Coronavirus is a Real Moment for Action on Obesity (BBC)

In this video, Helen Whately (Care Minister for the UK) reviews the statistics for overweight and obesity in the UK. She notes that these diseases worsen gradually over time and promises that UK will provide necessary information and support. However, she talks only about personal choices and does not directly mention environmental factors in the development of obesity.

Hormone reveals why COVID-19 is dangerous for people with obesity (The Tribune)

A recent scientific paper found a correlation between obesity, COVID-19, and leptin. Leptin is a hormone that controls immune function, appetite, and metabolism, and may cause slight but constant inflammation in those with obesity, further preventing the body from mounting an adequate immune response. More research is needed into anti-inflammatory medications for COVID-19 treatment and immune cell function in those with obesity.

COVID-19: Diabetes, obesity declared risk factors as Kenya records 375 new cases (Citizen Digital)

The Kenyan Ministry of Health has formally declared obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure as conditions that predispose individuals to worse cases of COVID-19. This comes from rising case counts and expanded COVID-19 testing. People with these diseases are advised to stay home as much as possible.

Coronavirus: Public Health England calls for action on obesity in Covid-19 fight (The Guardian)

Public Health England recently published a review of the scientific literature surrounding COVID-19 and obesity, indicating that the risk of severe outcomes (hospital admission, critical care, and death) increase with higher body mass index (BMI). Obesity is therefore an important a modifiable risk factor, supporting the recent anti-obesity reforms in the UK. As exercise rates have remained the same throughout lockdown and junk food consumption has increased, the chief nutritionist for Public Health England recommends weight management to reduce the risk.

Sentara Martha Jefferson Monday: Obesity and COVID-19 (NBC-29)

Obesity increases the risk of COVID-19 and many other diseases. A recent study from John Hopkins found that 20-40-year olds living with obesity were at the greatest risk of severe outcomes. Bariatric surgeon Dr Tim Snow recommends healthy lifestyle choices and bariatric surgery if needed.

Go fast or go home: Why food and beverage firms need to innovate quickly to meet consumer needs amid COVID-19 (Food Navigator Asia)

Food Navigator Asia has launched a second webinar – “New Product Development and the Evolving Consumer Landscape” (part of their Unlocking Innovation Online Series) – to discuss consumer trends and supply changes as a result of COVID-19. Different products, including produce, plant-based foods, probiotics, and other healthy foods, are now in greater demand. Some companies, like Heineken, have also reformulated some products to have fewer calories.

Racial Inequities in Food Go Far Beyond Insidious Branding (Bloomberg Opinion)

While some companies are removing racist branding from their products, more must be done to fix the underlying food injustice. Ashanté Reese, author and professor from the University of Texas, focuses on historical racist policies that determined where African Americans were allowed to live and how lack of investment continues to impact these places, contributing to food apartheid. Research is unclear as to how adding more grocery stores is a useful intervention against chronic disease, including obesity, likely due to the complexity of the issue, but there definitely does appear to be a connection between racism and chronic disease, necessitating reform of the food system.

Social media posts about links between obesity, diet and COVID-19 by metabolic disorders influencers peaked in May, says GlobalData (Global Data)

Data analysts have found that obesity was mentioned most often by metabolic disorder social media influencers in April and May, accounting for 50% of COVID-19 related posts in April and 72% of COVID-19 related posts in May. The most popular and widespread posts discuss the links between obesity and severe COVID-19 disease among younger patients and those of lower socio-economic status as well as inflammation caused by processed foods. Epidemiologists suggest that food and beverage companies reduce unhealthy food advertising and that governments introduce stricter regulations as well as measures to promote greater equity in food.

Coronavirus: GPs to prescribe cycling in new obesity strategy (BBC)

As part of the UK’s plan to reduce obesity rates throughout the country, they have launched a 12-week intervention called the Better Health campaign. They also plan for doctors to prescribe cycling as a form of weight management. These reforms will save money for the NHS, create a healthier country less susceptible to COVID-19, and improve access to weight management services like bariatric surgery. The majority Conservative party and the minority Labour party are split as to the importance of personal choices on obesity.


Covid-19 exposes the UK’s broken food system (BMJ)

COVID-19 has highlighted many failings of the UK food system, from the “just-in-time” model leading to shortages in supermarkets to the prevalence of overweight and obesity. The authors argue that changes to the food system after Brexit must be centred around public health and involve cooperation of diverse government departments. Additionally, care must be taken to prevent major disruptions in case of a no-deal Brexit.

How Weight Stigma Contributes To Obesity Levels In England (Coach)

This article includes an interview with Lucy Perrow, a dietician with the British Dietetic Association. She indicates that the obesity is caused by a variety of factors, so treatments must be tailored to the individual, although most include long-term support. Perrow also discusses weight stigma, which has many negative health impacts on those with obesity and is not at all effective in helping those with obesity to lose weight.

CalMatters Commentary: Amid COVID-19, more child school meal resources needed this fall (Desert Sun)

COVID-19 has pushed more children into food insecurity while closing schools. Although resourceful districts have come up with a variety of ways to continue to provide school meals and other safety measures, the costs of doing so are high and are only projected to increase. It is recommended that the USDA expand school meal programmes beyond exclusively low-income communities, provide more funding for school meals, and expand the SNAP programme.

The Glaring Problem With The UK Government's Dangerous "Better Health" Campaign (Bustle)

In this article, Diyora Shadijanova explains her experiences living with an eating disorder and how she feels calorie labelling with negatively impact her and others. She criticizes the plan as putting blame on the individual and disproportionately targeting low-income households. Finally, she reminds the reader that weight is not the only indicator of health.

Weight-wagering and walking: How we shed the pounds to boost our chances of survival if a second wave of Covid-19 hits (iNews)

This article expresses the viewpoints of several people using online weight management services. These include an app that allows people to place bets on their weight loss, pedometers that track steps taken, and Zoom meetings for support groups. Personal trainer Lee Brogran emphasizes the importance of routine, enjoyable exercise, self-care, healthy diets, and habit breaking.

Illness, obesity, racism; who gets blamed for our crises? The poor of course (The Guardian) 

In this article, Kenan Malik portrays Boris Johnson’s anti-obesity reforms (and other historical policies) to blame the poor for their dietary choices without taking other limitations into account. In order to resolve the obesity crisis, the government first must resolve poverty so that the same choices are open to all. The article is also highly critical of a paper by political scientist Lawrence Mead that similarly blames cultural norms of ethnic minorities for higher poverty rates.

Years of austerity mean Boris Johnson's war on obesity is doomed to fail (The Guardian) 

Kieran Morris is extremely sceptical of the UK’s anti-obesity measures, as they require time to exercise and prepare meals, money to afford healthy foods, and spaces for safe exercise. As austerity measures have led to budget cuts in these areas, people may become frustrated by trying to accomplish something that is extremely difficult if not impossible in their circumstances and would instead be better served by major cultural shifts. Additionally, this could be harmful for those at risk of or living with eating disorders.

Coronavirus doctor's diary: How gardening could help in the fight against obesity (BBC)

According to doctor and epidemiologist Professor John Wright, comparisons between children born in wealthy and deprived suburbs reveal the role of an obesity-causing environment in obesity rate disparities between these areas, as children are surrounded by unhealthy options, lack the equipment to cook, and do not have safe spaces to exercise. Other physicians and community organisers note the importance of motivation in weight management activities and the efficacy of local programmes for the development of successful interventions.

Involve marginalized groups to make food systems more climate-resilient (Manilla Times)

According to Nout van der Vaart of the organisation Hivos, COVID-19 has led to setbacks in achieving worldwide goals to reduce hunger. Now, we must focus on improving crop diversity and drawing upon people from marginalized groups through encouragement of local production. Climate change affects all but is worst for the most disadvantaged. Both governments and civil society organisations must work together to make changes for all.

Cheap Fruit And Vegetables Won't Help Britain's Obesity Crisis (HuffPost)

Drawing upon his own experience, article author Josh Schot explains that low-income families often turn to unhealthy foods as one of the few treats available, understanding but not prioritizing the health effects of doing so. He sees the UK’s anti-obesity measures as overly paternal and doomed to fail because they do not deal with the structural causes of poverty and food insecurity.   

Obesity: tackling the causes of the causes (The BMJ Opinion) 

This blog post from the British Medical Journal states that the worsening of the obesity crisis is most likely caused by major societal changes in the recent decades fostering an environment that encourages obesity and forms barriers to healthy lifestyles, especially for the most disadvantaged. It criticizes policy interventions that focus exclusively on personal choices to fight obesity without taking environmental factors into account. It views the UK’s new policies as overdue but inadequate in addressing the drivers of obesity for these reasons.

Impact of obesity on COVID-19 symptoms

This article includes the perspectives of a variety of obesity experts. Professor Luigi Fontana promotes the mechanism of obesity-related insulin resistance causing worse outcomes in COVID-19 patients with obesity. Professor and epidemiologist Adrian Bauman criticises the UK’s anti-obesity measures as COVID-19 prevention, as weight management is a slow process, education alone has historically been ineffective in reducing obesity, and other risk factors will still exist. Professor William Bellew believes more must be done to combat weight stigma given major psychological consequences, Professor Davin Raubenhelmer wants to target the food environment, and Louise Baur (president-elect of World Obesity) praises the focus on limiting food advertising to children.

Obesity can't be tackled until we address the trauma that causes it (The Guardian)

Author and psychologist Eleanor Morgan criticizes the UK’s anti-obesity scheme as impractical due to the short time before the second wave of COVID-19, confusing in the sense that the Eat Out Help Out scheme was launched concurrently, and stigmatising for focusing on personal choice. Studies repeatedly show that shaming people for their weight does not improve weight management and others tie obesity to traumatic childhood events. Addressing these underlying psychological causes of obesity should be considered in weight management.

Why the government is getting it wrong on obesity and coronavirus (Eastern Daily Press)

According to Julie de Rohan, a psychotherapist from the UK, the Better Health Campaign will encourage rapid weight loss without taking psychological factors like binge eating disorder into account. The NHS recommends that people with this disorder avoid dieting, providing contradictory messaging. Instead, she believes the government should focus on the psychological interventions.

I welcome a new obesity strategy, but its modest proposals kick in too late (Prospect)

Sarah Wollaston, MP and chair of the Health and Liaison select committees agrees that intervention against high obesity rates in the UK is desperately needed but notes that reforms are happening too slowly, as the government hopes obesity will decrease in time for the projected second wave. She also believes that measures do not go far enough and would prefer more power for local actors and expansion of the existing sugar tax. However, she is optimistic about the cycling initiatives, the promotion restrictions, and the overall breadth of the plan.

How obesity is killing us softly - Robert Cutajar (Times of Malta)

Malta has handled the COVID-19 pandemic extremely well so far, but according to Robert Cutajar (spokesperson for the Nationalist Party), it must now turn its attention to the obesity crisis. He urges the Maltese government to revisit his obesity bill from four years ago. Cutajar recommends a whole-of-government approach involving education (especially among mothers, retirement homes, community centres, and shelters), school-based interventions like water fountains and mandatory physical education, and funding local governments to create safe recreational areas.

More free school meal vouchers is good news, but it doesn’t go far enough in tackling food poverty (The independent)

MP Jess Phillips criticizes the handling of food insecurity due to COVID-19 in the UK, especially the slowness with which it was implemented and frequent technical difficulties. While she acknowledges the existing reforms, she also wants to see more being done for the most vulnerable UK residents, such as removing the 5-week wait time to access universal credit payments.

UN expert to address Scotland right to food event (Scottish Housing News)

The Scottish Food Coalition and the Human Rights Consortium Scotland have invited Michael Fakhri of the United Nations to their event titled ‘COVID-19 and the Right to Food Gap in Scotland.’ He believes that, as COVID-19 has revealed many inequities in food systems across the globe, Scotland now has the opportunity to make reforms and guarantee the right to food for all citizens. Statements from members of both hosts are included as well, which address food as a human right and the need for sustainability.

Letter: Congress must strengthen SNAP, vital to ending hunger amid coronavirus (Journal and Courier) 

Emily Weikert Bryant (executive director of Feeding Indiana's Hungry) believes that, due to unprecedented rises in food insecurity caused by COVID-19, it is essential to expand federal food aid programmes like SNAP by 15%. Food banks are unable to meet demand alone. Additionally, increasing SNAP benefits will lead to economic benefits through the purchasing of more food.

Coronavirus obesity: Why Australia should follow Boris Johnson’s health lead (The New Daily)

This article summarises the UK’s measures to tackle the obesity crisis. Alexandra Jones, research fellow at The George Institute for Global Health, believes that