LONDON: Obesity remains a critical risk factor in the battle against COVID-19, according to a report released on Saturday by researchers in the UK.
The report, issued by Public Health England (PHE), a government agency dedicated to improving the UK population’s health and wellbeing, found that the risks of hospitalization, intensive care treatment and death “seem to increase progressively with increasing BMI (body mass index) above the healthy weight range.”
Among risk factors including age, sex and ethnicity, the PHE report said weight “may be one of the few modifiable risk factors for COVID-19.”
Dr. Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, said: “The 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. The case for action on obesity has never been stronger.”
The findings are particularly concerning for GCC states, which have some of the highest obesity rates in the world.
Kuwait is the most obese country in the Middle East, with an obesity rate of about 37.9 percent. Saudi Arabia has an obesity rate of 35.4 percent.
Combined overweight and obesity rates in GCC countries are estimated to be as high as 86 percent among women and 77 percent among men. Overweight is defined as having a BMI greater than or equal to 25, and obesity as 30 or above.
PHE’s findings on the importance of weight in surviving infection have recently been given extra credence by separate research conducted by teams from the University of Toronto and the University of Texas.
By comparing case numbers and mortality rates among the world’s 50 worst-hit countries, they found that lockdown measures made no difference to mortality rates.
Their findings instead suggested that the single most important factor influencing mortality rates was the prevalence of obesity in each country, with economic indicators also playing a role.
The report said: “When COVID-19 mortality was assessed, variables significantly associated with an increased death rate per million were population prevalence of obesity and per capita gross domestic product.”
The paper’s findings have been disputed by some academics for an alleged narrow scope of research.
However, combined with the new research by PHE, it is becoming increasingly clear that obesity and population health are key areas that governments — particularly in the Gulf, due to the high obesity rates — can address in order to aid their fight against the disease.