Following his admittance to intensive care with coronavirus in April, prime minister Boris Johnson is reportedly now preparing a more “interventionist” drive to tackle UK obesity in the ongoing and long-term fight against Covid-19.
According to a report in The Times on 15 May, Mr Johnson is convinced his condition became more serious because of his weight – said to be 17.5 stone at the time he was taken to hospital.
This is not the first time the severity of coronavirus has been linked to a patient’s weight – when asked about the British death toll compared to other European nations, health secretary Matt Hancock said “the age profile and factors like obesity” should be accounted for – but does being overweight or obese actually change your prognosis?
Does obesity make coronavirus more dangerous?
Being overweight or obese increases general risk factors including type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, some types of cancer such as breast and bowel, and having a stroke.
Early on in the spread of the virus, having a history of coronary problems or diabetes were identified as increasing vulnerability (figures released by the NHS on 14 May showed a quarter of coronavirus patients who have died had diabetes), but obesity was not explicitly referenced.
Now preliminary studies have shown obesity can make coronavirus more dangerous as well.
Why is obesity causing more deaths?
Studies have suggested a number of reasons, including that people with obesity are being more likely to have pre-existing underlying health conditions like diabetes.
The World Obesity Federation, which represents members of the scientific and medical communities, says: “Furthermore people with obesity who become ill and require intensive care present challenges in patient management.”
What is being done about the risk?
On 4 May Public Health England (PHE) announced a review into how different factors – including ethnicity, gender and obesity – impact health outcomes from COVID-19.
It says: “The exercise is part of a rapid review being led by Public Health England (PHE) to better understand how different factors such as ethnicity, deprivation, age, gender and obesity could impact on how people are affected by COVID-19.”
It is also understood that the prime minister wants to use the pandemic, and the obesity implications, as an opportunity to reinvigorate the campaign against obesity in the UK. For example, it is reported Mr Johhson will encourage the public to walk and cycle more where possible rather than using public transport.