Obesity and COVID-19: Report finds pandemic death rate is 10 times higher in overweight countries

LONDON — Obesity is one of the many health conditions doctors say can put someone at greater risk from COVID-19. A new report is now revealing the true scope of how being overweight is contributing to the pandemic’s death toll. Researchers with the World Obesity Federation find nearly 90 percent of the deaths from COVID have taken place in countries where the obesity rate is the highest in the world.

According to their report COVID-19 and Obesity: The 2021 Atlas, 2.2 million of the 2.5 million deaths reported through February 2021 occurred in nations where over the half the population classifies as overweight. Researchers say by the end of 2020, death rates from COVID-19 were over ten times higher in these countries.

“Increased bodyweight is the second greatest predictor of hospitalization and a high risk of death for people suffering from COVID-19. Only old age rates as a higher risk factor,” the group’s president John Wilding and CEO Johanna Ralston write.

“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.”

Where is obesity doing the most harm?

The report shows some of the nations hardest hit by the virus also rank among the most overweight countries in the world. This includes United Kingdom, Italy, and the United States — where the overweight percentage is nearly 68 percent. Along with the tremendous cost in lives, researchers find the pandemic will have a staggering economic cost as well.

“The International Monetary Fund has calculated that COVID-19 will cause a total of at least $10 trillion losses in global output over the period 2020-2021, and accumulating to $22 trillion over the period 2020-2025,” the report notes.

With this in mind, researchers are recommending that people classifying as obese be added to the groups receiving priority for COVID vaccinations.

“An overweight population is an unhealthy population, and a pandemic waiting to happen,” study authors conclude.

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention count obesity among their list of underlying medical conditions which put a patient at severe risk from COVID. The other conditions include cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, Down Syndrome, heart disease, and weakened immune systems. Women who are pregnant, smokers, and those with diabetes are also at heightened risk.

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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