The World Health Organization, for one, has highlighted non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as obesity as a risk factor for becoming seriously ill with COVID-19. In the UK, a report suggests that two thirds of people who have fallen seriously ill with coronavirus were overweight or had obesity. Meanwhile, a report from Italy suggests 99% of deaths have been in patients with pre-existing conditions, including those which are commonly seen in people with obesity such as hypertension, cancer, diabetes and heart diseases.
The WOF warned that a number of measures taken by countries to deal with the crisis risked exacerbating the challenge of obesity. For example, strained food systems and supply chains due to concerns of food shortages, as well as an increased reliance on processed, long-life foods and a reduction in fresh fruit and vegetables and unprocessed meat. It also noted there were reduced opportunities for people to be physically active as movement is restricted.
The body has therefore recommended a number of actions for governments around the world to take to ensure that the wider health of populations is maintained during the pandemic.
It urged that “nutritionally adequate food is made available for all, particularly for vulnerable populations such as those with existing health conditions, the elderly, people with disabilities and low-income households” and called on authorities to ensure that any policies and restrictions that are put in place to limit the spread of covid also allow for people to be physically active in open spaces, while still maintaining adequate social distancing.
It warned that impact on mental health was one challenge from isolation, reduced physical activity, social engagement and employment changes. It therefore suggested governments should promote strategies to improve and manage this during this challenging time.
It added governments should provide helplines and other virtual support services as appropriate for people with existing diseases to ensure they have access to the most up to date information on their care as well as access to the medications required to manage their disease.
Finally, the organisation appealed to the powers that be to “recognise that obesity, and other NCDs appear to increase risk and likely worsen the outcomes of COVID-19 and as such ensure that those people living with these diseases are provided advice if they have symptoms, and where possible tested and provided care early.”