Hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 deaths could have been avoided if the obesity epidemic had been tackled, the World Obesity Federation says.
Obesity has been linked to a higher risk of severe COVID-19 and death from the disease, and a World Obesity Federation report claims that about nine in 10 COVID-19 deaths have occurred in countries with high obesity rates.
This includes the UK, which has the third-highest COVID death rate in the world and the fourth-highest obesity rate.
The report, which analyses countries’ obesity rates as well as COVID-19 deaths, also says the death rate is 10 times higher in countries where 50 per cent or more of the population is overweight.
The authors say 2.2 million of the 2.5 million global deaths are in countries with high levels of obesity.
Countries with low levels of obesity do not have high death rates but other factors could also be at play.
The World Health Organisation says the report should act as a “wake-up call” for governments to tackle their obesity problems.
Report author Dr Tim Lobstein, senior policy adviser to the World Obesity Federation and visiting professor at the University of Sydney, said: “We now know that an overweight population is the next pandemic waiting to happen.
“Look at countries like Japan and South Korea where they have very low levels of COVID-19 deaths as well as very low levels of adult obesity. They have prioritised public health across a range of measures, including population weight, and it has paid off in the pandemic.
“Governments have been negligent and ignored the economic value of a healthy population at their peril.”
Commenting on the report, World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “This report must act as a wake-up call to governments globally.
“Investment in public health and co-ordinated, international action to tackle the root causes of obesity is one of the best ways for countries to build resilience in health systems post-pandemic. We urge all countries to seize this moment.”