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Obesity and Covid-19

Body weight.

A report by the World Obesity Federation published last week found that the UK, US and Italy, where more than 50% of adults are apparently overweight, had the biggest proportions of deaths linked to Covid-19.

According to the report, of the 2.5 million worldwide deaths to date from Covid-19, 2.2 million were in countries that have high levels of overweight people. In addition, death rates are 10 times higher in those countries where more than half the adults have a body mass index of more than 25kg/m2 (the point at which normal weight moves into overweight territory).

Among those countries where more than half the adult population is overweight, Belgium has the highest level of deaths, followed by Slovenia and the UK (Italy and Portugal are fifth and sixth, while the US is eighth on this list).

It is important to note that the biggest factor in the international Covid-19 death toll remains that of age, the World Obesity Federation report emphasises, with weight being the second crucial factor.

Expect to see renewed activity on the part of the government, NHS and Public Health England as a result of these and similar findings, both in terms of restrictions on what can be purchased at which price in supermarkets, as well as more health advice in the media. Where smoking and then alcohol consumption were considered near the top of risk factors for the wider population in the past, fat and sugar are now inevitably going to come into focus moving forward.

So, it is ironic that during the recent lockdowns gyms and fitness centres around the country have been closed, have remained closed (despite the energetic lobbying on the part of the sector), and people have been restricted in the forms of exercise they can undertake.

And this for a year now.

In my experience, both as a personal trainer and a consumer, there is clearly a challenge concerning diet and exercise in the general population and to a degree, I sympathise with those struggling with weight problems. Focusing this issue down to matters of poor diet and portion control is, however, the wrong direction to go in where healthy body weight is concerned, as this is an issue as much about fitness more generally as it is about what we eat or drink. To a degree, a certain variance on diet and consumption is acceptable, in my professional opinion, if this is balanced by an active lifestyle, exercise and intelligent decision-making on the part of the person concerned.

We eat, drink and live our lives as we do for a variety of complex reasons and governed at times by contradictory desires. Not everything in our cognitive or moral universe is about looking good, feeling great or thinking about the far horizon. Sometimes we act in impulsive ways we do not fully understand and operate within our economic means. Thinking only about our waistlines is meaningless if individuals are not also offered a more nuanced range of lifestyle options to choose from so as to live meaningful and worthwhile lives.

In that vein, opening the gyms and fitness centres would be a good way to promote fit and healthy lifestyles, as would offering those on low or fixed incomes the means of accessing gyms, exercise classes and other such fitness/social facilities within their realistic economic means.

This in itself may be the best investment to ward off the threat of future coronavirus outbreaks, complementary to the positive impact of the current vaccination drive, and which would also have wider positive outcomes for the people of the country as a whole.


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