COVID-19 pandemic illuminates need to tackle obesity

People with obesity who catch COVID-19 are more likely to be admitted to the hospital and to die from the disease than those at lower weights, evidence suggests. An article published in The BMJ on March 4, 2021, questioned why more has not been done to address this modifiable risk factor.

Negative health outcomes linked to obesity are not new. Research has linked excess weight to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Over the years, countries with the highest obesity burden, such as the U.S. and Mexico, have launched efforts to tackle the problem, such as improving school meals, encouraging more active lifestyles, and taxing sugary drinks. But despite some improvement, obesity rates remain high.

Steve Gortmaker, professor of the practice of health sociology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in the article that the easy availability of cheap, unhealthy food—and the power of the food and beverage industry to oppose legislation that affects its bottom line—are key challenges to addressing obesity. “You can spend a few dollars and eat a few hundred calories in a few minutes,” he said. “And food marketing encourages us to eat every moment of the day.”

Other experts quoted in the article note that the influence of brands selling unhealthy products has become even more pronounced during the pandemic as people stuck at home reach for comfort foods.

Read The BMJ article: Covid-19 has made the obesity epidemic worse, but failed to ignite enough action