The “case for action on obesity has never been stronger” experts have warned in the wake of the publication of a new review of evidence found a dramatic rise in the risk of hospitalisation and death from Covid-19.
Professor John Newton, Public Health England’s (PHE) director of health improvement, said it was “now clear” that being overweight affects the risk associated with contracting Covid-19 following a study by his organisation.
The study concluded that people who are overweight, with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29.9, have a higher risk of hospitalisation and poor outcomes if they catch coronavirus.
Experts also discovered that having a BMI of 35 to 40 increases the risk of death from coronavirus by 40%, while a BMI over 40 almost doubles the risk compared to people who are a healthy weight.
The report said being overweight or obese increases the chance somebody will end up critically ill in intensive care, with 7.9% of critically ill patients with Covid-19 in intensive care units having a BMI over 40 compared with 2.9% of the general population.
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, said: “The current evidence is clear that being overweight or obese puts you at greater risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19, as well as from many other life-threatening diseases.
“It can be hard to lose weight and even harder to sustain it, which is why people cannot easily do it on their own.
“Losing weight can bring huge benefits for health – and may also help protect against the health risks of Covid-19.
“The case for action on obesity has never been stronger.”
The PHE review found that the public has been snacking more in lockdown and, despite increases in sales of bikes and exercise equipment, overall activity levels appear to have dropped compared to before the pandemic.
The study also pointed out that snack food and alcohol supermarket sales have risen, possibly reflecting the fact shops, pubs and cafes were closed during lockdown and people turned to snacking and drinking at home.
During the first six months of this year, alcohol sales were up 30% on the same period last year, while confectionery sales were up 20% and foods for sweet home cooking rose 22%, the PHE report said.
The report has been revealed as gyms and indoor pools are reopening across England in the latest easing of lockdown measures to allow people to focus on their fitness – but at least a third of public facilities are expected to remain shut due to financial hardship.
Meanwhile, a survey of more than 2,000 people for the Food Standards Agency in May found that people were cooking more from scratch – but were also snacking on cakes, biscuits, confectionery and savoury snacks more often.
The PHE report comes as the government prepares to reveal its own obesity strategy “very soon”, with junk food adverts expected to be banned on television before the 9pm watershed and outlawed entirely online.
Promotions on snacks will be curbed in an attempt to tackle the nation’s waistlines and, according to a Daily Mail report, restaurant and takeaway chains will have to publish the number of calories in the meals they serve – while shops will have to do the same with any alcohol they sell.
Boris Johnson’s plans come only a year after he vowed to review “sin taxes”, such as proposals to extend the sugar tax to milkshakes.
The PM also confirmed his own brush with Covid-19, which led to him being admitted to intensive care in April, convinced him of the need to tackle obesity in Britain.