It’s no secret that America has a weight problem. According to the CDC, the prevalence of obesity increased from 30.5% to 42.4% from 1999 to 2018. About 70% of adults in the U.S are considered overweight.
That might help explain why the COVID-19 death toll has been so high in the U.S. A new study from the World Obesity Federation (WOF) shows the risk of death for COVID-19 is ten times higher in countries where most adults are overweight.
Obesity increases the risk of chronic and serious health conditions, including obesity, heart disease, liver disease, and various forms of cancer. And now serious illness as a result COVID-19.
How Obesity Affects the COVID-19 Death Toll
The study shows that 90% of all COVID-19 deaths worldwide have occurred in countries where half the population is considered obese or overweight. Researchers analyzed the COVID- 19 mortality data from John Hopkins University and the World Health Organization to see how obesity may have tipped the scales. Of the 2.5 million deaths reported worldwide by the end of February, 2.2 million were in countries where more than half the population is overweight, including the U.S.
The scientists looked at 160 countries and the trend held regardless of national wealth, standard of living, or age.
“Increased body weight is the second greatest predictor of hospitalization and a high risk of death for people suffering from Covid-19,” the report states.
“People with obesity more than twice as likely to need hospitalization, more than six times as likely to need mechanically assisted breathing, and more than six times as likely to die following development of COVID-19,” the WOF added.
New data from the CDC shows that 73% of Americans who died from COVID-19 were obese or overweight. We know that black, Hispanic, and Native Americans face a higher risk of serious illness due to COVID-19 than white Americans. Ethnicity aside, obesity may be the underlying cause.
In the latest statistics, black adults had the highest obesity rates of any race or ethnicity in the United States in 2019, followed by American Indians/Alaska Natives and Hispanics. That same year, around 40% of all black adults were obese.
Taking a New Approach
Throughout the pandemic, senior citizens and those with preexisting health conditions were considered the most at risk, but these reports suggest that obesity may be the more important risk factor. It also highlights the need to reduce the rate of obesity across the country by supporting a healthy lifestyle.
“These results highlight the need to promote and support a healthy BMI, which might be especially important for populations disproportionately affected by obesity, particularly Hispanic or Latino and non-Hispanic black adults and persons from low-income households, which are populations who have a higher prevalence of obesity and are more likely to have worse outcomes from COVID-19 compared with other populations,” the CDC authors wrote in the report.
Some states have started prioritizing individuals with a body mass index of 30 or more for vaccination.
“Old age is unavoidable, but the conditions that contribute to overweight and obesity can be highly avoidable if governments step up and we all join forces to reduce the impact of this disease. The failure to address the root causes of obesity over many decades is clearly responsible for hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths,” Johanna Ralston, CEO of the World Obesity Federation, said in a statement.
It’s too late to save the more than 537,000 Americans that have already died of COVID-19, but this information can help us protect those still at risk of serious illness and take steps to prevent this kind of calamity from happening again.
Dr Tim Lobstein, one of the authors of the WOF report says, “Governments have been negligent, and ignored the economic value of a healthy population at their peril. For the last decade they have failed to tackle obesity.”
From excess medical bills to loss of productivity, the true cost of obesity can be difficult to track. The CDC estimates the annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was $147 billion in 2008 and the medical cost for people who have obesity was $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.
Reducing obesity can help countries reduce other health issues and viral infections, including the flu, H1N1, and MERS. “COVID-19 is only the latest infection exacerbated by weight issues, but the warning signs were there. We have seen it in the past with MERS, H1N1 and other respiratory diseases,” Lobstein added.
The benefits of reducing obesity are clear. This won’t be the last pandemic, but we can start saving lives by reducing the prevalence of obesity and making sure everyone has what they need to lead a healthy lifestyle.