Obesity a driving factor in COVID-19 deaths, global report finds
LONDON – The majority of global COVID-19 deaths have been in countries where many people are obese, with coronavirus fatality rates 10 times higher in nations where at least 50% of adults are overweight, a global study found on Thursday.
The report, which described a “dramatic” correlation between countries’ COVID-19 death and obesity rates, found that 90% or 2.2 million of the 2.5 million deaths from the pandemic disease so far were in countries with high levels of obesity.
The study analysed the COVID-19 death figures from Johns Hopkins University in the United States and the World Health Organization’s Global Health Observatory data on obesity.
Strikingly, the authors said, there is no example of a country where people are generally not overweight or obese having high COVID-19 death rates.
“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,” said Tim Lobstein, an expert advisor to the World Obesity Federation and visiting professor at Australia’s Sydney University who co-led the report.
“They have prioritised public health across a range of measures, including population weight, and it has paid off in the pandemic.”
By contrast, the report found that in the United States and Britain, for example, both COVID-19 death rates and obesity levels were among the highest.
The United Kingdom has the world’s third-highest coronavirus death rate and the fourth-highest obesity rate – 184 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 and 63.7% of adults overweight, according to WHO data – followed by the United States, with 152.49 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 and 67.9% of adults overweight.
John Wilding, a professor of medicine at Britain’s University of Liverpool and president of the World Obesity Federation, said obesity should be recognised as a key COVID-19 health risk and taken into account in vaccination plans.
“It’s really important that we recognise that obesity … increases the risk,” he said in a statement about the report’s findings. “Therefore, like other diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, people with obesity should be considered for early priority in vaccination programmes across the world.”
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