Experts Call for Immediate Government Intervention on Obesity to Help Prevent Further Deaths from COVID-19
29 May 2020
Ahead of the Government’s imminent review which will analyse how factors including obesity, ethnicity, income and gender can affect the impact of the coronavirus on people’s health, Action on Sugar and Action on Salt has today delivered an evidence-based plan for the Prime Minister to provide support for those living with obesity, while improving health for all in the long term.
With increasing evidence demonstrating that obesity is an independent risk factor for more severe illness and death from COVID-19[3-11], the group of leading experts is calling on the nation to know their BMI numbers to identify their risk and for the government to improve advice, access and treatments at scale and pace.
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- Provide guidance for identifying modifiable risk factors
- Improve understanding of the many causes of obesity
- Increase access and funding for bariatric surgery
- Increase access and funding for evidence-based weight loss support
In addition, Action on Sugar / Salt is urging ministers to act on previous government commitments to tackle the obesity crisis that the nation faced prior to COVID-19, and will continue to face if government continue to dither, which don’t place sole responsibility on the individual.
- Ensure only healthy products are advertised and promoted
- Adopt fiscal measures to promote healthy food (with income ringfenced to subsidise treatments)
- Make nutrition labelling mandatory
- Ensure all food provided to key workers in their workplaces is healthy
- Improve nutritional profile of processed food and drink
- Set up a new, independent and transparent food watchdog
Of the COVID-19 risk factors that can be modified, obesity and the degree of control of type 2 diabetes are by far the most important. However, with a current lack of access to health services due to the pandemic, and governmental measures to address obesity currently on hold, at a time when they have never been more necessary, those living with obesity are being failed.
For most people, the Body Mass Index (BMI) is a relatively straightforward and convenient way of assessing your own risk. Evidence shows that one in three (28.7%) British adults are classified as having obesity, and one in eight of those has severe obesity (3.6% of all adults), one of the highest rates in the world. However, there is no national programme to help individuals self-identify their weight status. If someone’s BMI suggests they are living with an increased risk of poor health due to their obesity then it’s imperative that there is trusted guidance available, with easy access to weight management services and to affordable, healthy food.
Graham MacGregor CBE - Chairman of Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, Queen Mary University of London says:
“With data showing that 78% of coronavirus infections and 62% of hospital deaths occur in overweight or obese individuals – with Boris Johnson himself is reportedly to be concerned about his own weight with an estimated BMI of 36 – the government has a moral duty to intervene. Obesity is also the main underlining cause of type 2 diabetes which in itself is another potentially modifiable risk factor for more severe COVID-19. However, long planned and awaited governmental measures to address this have been unbelievably put on hold due to the COVID-19 outbreak, at a time when they have never been more necessary.”
Katharine Jenner - Campaign Director of Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, Queen Mary University of London says:
“The British public are being failed by the food environment within which we currently live. Although there is an element of personal responsibility in both the treatment and prevention of obesity, this can only be achieved with equitable access to healthy, affordable food – this is far from a reality. It is even more critical than ever for the food & drink industry, including the hospitality sector, to stop flooding us with unhealthy food options to keep us healthy – both now and in the future.”
Holly Gabriel – Registered Nutritionist and Nutrition Campaigner at Action on Sugar adds:
“Knowing your BMI is one way of identifying your weight status, and recent evidence has shown us that if you are living with obesity and you do develop COVID-19 you are likely to become more unwell. If you do find that your BMI is in the overweight or obese range, talk to your GP and seek advice from a Dietitian or Registered Nutritionist. Support is available but the government needs to do more to improve access and range of services. Reach out to your MP to make sure your government acts to ensure you have access to the support you need as well as a sustainable healthy diet.”
- Take your weight in kilograms
- Measure your height in meters and square it
- Divide your weight by your height squared
A healthy BMI is 18.5 to 25. Over 25 is defined as ‘overweight’ with more than 30 generally considered to be ‘living with obesity’.
This measure is not always definitive, and sometimes other measures are used. These include waist circumference and the waist-hip ratio (defined as the waist circumference divided by the hip circumference which provides an indication of the distribution of fat on the body).
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Notes to editors:
Action on Sugar is a group of specialists concerned with sugar and its effects on health. It is successfully working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful effects of a high sugar diet, and bring about a reduction in the amount of sugar in food and drink products.
About Action on Salt is a group concerned with salt and its effects on health, supported by 24 expert scientific members. Action on Salt is successfully working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful effects of a high salt diet, and bring about a reduction in the amount of salt in processed foods as well as salt added to cooking, and at the table.
 UK GOV: Review into factors impacting health outcomes from covid-19: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/review-into-factors-impacting-health-outcomes-from-covid-19
 Action on Sugar and Action on Salt. Obesity: Treat and Prevent: An evidence-based action plan to reduce death from Covid-19.
 Ho FK, Celis-Morales CA, Gray SR, et al. Modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors for COVID-19: results from UK Biobank. medRxiv 2020. [Epub ahead of print]
 The OpenSAFELY Collaborative, Williamson E, Walker AJ, et al. OpenSAFELY: factors associated with COVID-19-related hospital death in the linked electronic health records of 17 million adult NHS patients. medRxiv 2020. [Epub ahead of print]
Simonnet A, Chetboun M, Poissy J, et al. High prevalence of obesity in severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) requiring invasive mechanical ventilation. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md) 2020. [Epub ahead of print]
 Lighter J, Phillips M, Hochman S, et al. Obesity in patients younger than 60 years is a risk factor for Covid-19 hospital admission. Clin Infect Dis 2020. [Epub ahead of print]
 Yu T, Cai S, Zheng Z, et al. Association Between Clinical Manifestations and Prognosis in Patients with COVID-19. Clin Ther 2020. [Epub ahead of print]
 Kalligeros M, Shehadeh F, Mylona EK, et al. Association of Obesity with Disease Severity among Patients with COVID-19. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md)2020. [Epub ahead of print]
 Petrilli CM, Jones SA, Yang J, et al. Factors associated with hospitalization and critical illness among 4,103 patients with COVID-19 disease in New York City. medRxiv 2020. [Epub ahead of print]
 Ong SWX, Young BE, Leo YS, Lye DC. Association of higher body mass index (BMI) with severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in younger patients. Clin Infect Dis 2020. [Epub ahead of print]
 Huang R, Zhu L, Xue L, et al. Clinical findings of patients with coronavirus disease 2019 in Jiangsu province, China: A retrospective, multi-center study. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 2020; 14: e0008280.
 NHS. Healthy Weight Calculator: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-weight/bmi-calculator/
 NHS Digital. Health Survey for Englandhttps://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/health-survey-for-england/2017