There’s a link between obesity and Covid-19, but it’s difficult to fathom what it is. We do know that people who are obese seem to suffer severely from COVID with a high risk of dying. Also, the more obese people are, the more severely they suffer COVID. The risk increases by almost half (44%) in people who are overweight and by nearly 100% of people who are obese.
So what’s going on? An editorial in the BMJ by Monique Tan and colleagues tries to explain. Many reasons might explain the link between COVID and obesity.
It’s possible that the fat cells of obese people are a target for and a reservoir of the coronavirus before it invades the rest of the body.
The surface of fat cells provides an easy entry for COVID into our bodies as they lock on and penetrate the cells.
In people who are obese, lung function is often already compromised because of greater resistance in the airways and greater difficulty in expanding the lungs.
And, thirdly, obesity weakens the immune system increasing the chance of a cytokine storm with Covid-19, which is what can often kill people.
During this storm, the immune system goes into overdrive and starts to attack our major organs. And, fourthly, it’s also difficult to ventilate obese patients.
Obesity is a major cause of high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer.
We’re currently going through an obesity pandemic – in 2016 more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight or obese worldwide, affecting 65-70% of the adult populations in the UK and USA.
To my mind, there’s no doubt that the prevalence of obesity has made the pandemic worse. We now live in an obesogenic environment where it’s difficult not to eat too many calories.
Junk food is available everywhere, but it’s not just availability. The food industry must share some of the blame, not only for the spread of obesity but also for the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The lockdown has tilted the balance away from healthy, fresh produce towards processed foods high in salt, sugar and saturated fat.
What I can’t forgive is the way the food industry has used the pandemic as a marketing opportunity. For example, by offering half a million “smiles” in the form of doughnuts to NHS staff!