COVID deaths much higher in countries with more overweight people

Medical staff in PPE intibating COVID patient

At a population level, the likelihood of death from COVID-19 is significantly higher in countries where more than half the adult population is classified as overweight, according to a new report on obesity.

The World Obesity Federation (WOF) report shows that by the end of 2020 COVID-related deaths were around 10 times higher in countries where more than half of adults are overweight.

“Of the 2.5 million COVID-19 deaths reported by the end of February 2021, 2.2 million were in countries where more than half the population is classified as overweight,” the report’s executive summary says.

This adds to the growing body of evidence that overweight is a significant predictor of more severe symptoms from COVID-19 infection and an increased likelihood of hospitalisation and need for ongoing healthcare.

“COVID-19 is not the first respiratory viral infection exacerbated by overweight. Data from the last two decades on the impact of MERS, H1N1 influenza and other influenza-related infections show worse outcomes linked to excess bodyweight,” the report says.

Governments need to step in

The WOF recommends people living with obesity be among the first groups prioritised for vaccination, and obesity prevention efforts be enhanced to increase population resilience in pandemics.

Among other government policy solutions, the WOF recommends education, nutritious school meals, increased physical education in schools, sustainable food systems and investment in active transport systems.

Effective pandemic response bucks the trend

Interestingly, countries that go against the trend of higher death rates but have majority overweight populations are New Zealand, Australia and the Gulf states. The WOF puts this down to their national responses to the pandemic, so far.

Simple steps to take today

The good news is a healthy diet, rich in plant foods, and engaging in regular physical activity appears to reduce the risk of severe COVID symptoms or death.

Healthy Food Guide has plenty of science-based advice on healthy weight management and easy ways to increase your fitness.

Or you might like to try our 12-week Kick-start Plan to reach and maintain your healthy weight range.

First published: Mar 2021

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