Obesity a driving factor in COVID-19 deaths: Global report

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Most global COVID-19 deaths have been in countries where many people are obese, with coronavirus fatality rates 10 times higher in nations where at least 50 percent of adults are overweight, a global study found on Thursday.

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The report, which described a “dramatic” correlation between countries’ COVID-19 death and obesity rates, found that 90 percent or 2.2 million of the 2.5 million deaths from the pandemic disease so far were in countries with high levels of obesity.

The study analyzed the COVID-19 death figures from Johns Hopkins University in the US and the World Health Organization’s Global Health Observatory data on obesity.

Strikingly, the authors said, there is no example of a country where people are generally not overweight or obese having high COVID-19 death rates.

“Look at countries like Japan and South Korea, where they have very low levels of COVID-19 deaths as well as very low levels of adult obesity,” said Tim Lobstein, an expert adviser to the World Obesity Federation and visiting professor at Australia’s Sydney University who co-led the report.

“They have prioritized public health across a range of measures, including population weight, and it has paid off in the pandemic.”

By contrast, the report found that in the US and Britain, for example, both COVID-19 death rates and obesity levels were among the highest.

The United Kingdom has the world’s third-highest coronavirus death rate and the fourth-highest obesity rate - 184 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 and 63.7 percent of adults overweight, according to WHO data - followed by the US, with 152.49 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 and 67.9 percent of adults overweight.

John Wilding, a professor of medicine at Britain’s University of Liverpool and president of the World Obesity Federation, said obesity should be recognized as a key COVID-19 health risk and taken into account in vaccination plans.

“It’s really important that we recognize that obesity ... increases the risk,” he said in a statement about the report’s findings. “Therefore, like other diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, people with obesity should be considered for early priority in vaccination programs across the world.”

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