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Obesity confirmed as a major risk factor in Covid-19

March 10, 2021 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Catching Covid-19 is about 10 times more likely to prove fatal if you live in a country where most of the population is overweight, according to a new report.

The research, by the World Obesity Federation, follows multiple reports indicating that being overweight or obese can increase the risk of dying from Covid-19. The new findings are relevant to Australia because two out of three (67%) of Australians aged 18 and over are overweight or obese, according to Australian Government figures.

Quarantine and contact tracing have so far kept the incidence of Covid-19 down to minimal levels in Australia, though the pandemic is raging elsewhere.

Researchers found that by the end of last year, global Covid-19 death rates were on average more than 10 times higher in countries where more than half the adults are overweight.

In 2017–18, an estimated 67% of Australians aged 18 and over were overweight or obese (36% were overweight but not obese, and 31% were obese). That’s about 12.5 million adults.

Australian men had higher rates of overweight and obesity than women (75% of men and 60% of women), and higher rates of obesity (33% of men and 30% of women). Obesity is more common in older age groups – 16% of adults aged 18-24 were obese, compared with 41% of adults aged 65-74. On current trends, the chance of Australia meeting the UN adult obesity targets for 2025 is rated as “very poor” for both men and women.

The British-based World Obesity Federation team examined mortality data from America’s renowned Johns Hopkins University and the World Health Organisation (WHO). The team found that of 2.5 million Covid-19 deaths reported by the end of February, 2.2 million were in countries where more than half the population is overweight.

“Increased bodyweight is the second greatest predictor of hospitalisation and a high risk of death for people suffering from Covid-19,” the report states.

“Only old age rates as a higher risk factor.”

In the report, World Obesity Federation president John Wilding and chief executive Johanna Ralston attribute the unprecedented economic costs of Covid-19 largely to the measures taken to avoid the excess hospitalisation and need for treatment of the disease.

“Reducing one major risk factor, overweight, would have resulted in far less stress on health services and reduced the need to protect those services from being overwhelmed.

Below: World Overweight Map. Source: World Health Organisation, Global Health Observatory


“We show that in those countries where overweight affects only a minority of the adult population, the rates of death from Covid-19 are typically less than one tenth the levels found in countries where overweight affects the majority of adults. We also show that the drivers of overweight – especially high levels of consumption of processed foods – are associated with mortality from Covid-19.

“Lastly, we show that Covid-19 is not a special case: a number of other respiratory viruses lead to more severe consequences in people living with excess bodyweight, giving good reasons to expect the next pandemic to have similar effects.

“For these reasons we need to recognise overweight as a major risk factor for infectious diseases including respiratory viruses.”

The report can be read on the World Obesity Federation site here.

Written by Peter Needham

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