Covid-19 coronavirus's greater impact on overweight and obese people should be a wake-up call – Stephen Jardine

We can no longer pretend that being overweight isn’t a problem, given the greater risks posed by the coronavirus to people who are, writes Stephen Jardine
People who are obese have been found to be significantly more likely to die from Covid-19 (Picture: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)People who are obese have been found to be significantly more likely to die from Covid-19 (Picture: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)
People who are obese have been found to be significantly more likely to die from Covid-19 (Picture: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

When it comes to protecting ourselves and the NHS from the worst ravages of coronavirus, there are actions we can take. We can socially distance and wash our hands more frequently. We can wear a face covering in shops as a responsible gesture to others. This week another measure joined that list. We can lose weight.

On Monday, the UK government launched new measures to combat obesity, including a ban on junk food advertising before the watershed and restrictions on two-for-one promotions on unhealthy food. Here the Scottish Government is committed to halving child obesity over the next decade with a range of measures already in place. But there is a limit to what any government can do. What we eat is our responsibility.

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For too long the issue has been mired in excuses ranging from being “big boned” to “having a difficult relationship with food”. In recent times that has crystallised into the body positive movement which frowns upon any criticism of weight and tries to present obesity as a positive life choice. The internet is awash with claptrap about fat liberation and earnest debate about when the use of the word fat is even acceptable.

However, Covid-19 has burst the bubble of those who pretend being seriously overweight isn’t a problem. NHS research shows obese coronavirus patients are 33 per cent more likely to die from the condition. The science is simple. The more overweight you are, the more fat you are carrying, the less fit you are and the lower your lung capacity. This means it is more of a challenge to get oxygen into the blood and around the body. “Because people are more overweight, they also have a demand for more oxygen. So that means their system is actually undergoing greater pressure,” said Professor Naveed Sattar of Glasgow University.

So there it is, being overweight makes us more likely to be seriously ill with coronavirus. If we are happy to wear masks and socially distance to save lives and protect the NHS, why are we so reluctant to tackle another big contributory factor?

We are all victims of junk food production that makes it easier and cheaper to buy crisps and fizzy drinks than fruit juice and vegetables. From an early age so much food from sweets to cereal boxes is geared to training us that fat and sugar are key parts of our diet. By the time we are adults, trying to change learned tastes and eating habits is really hard.

Add in all the promotion that goes into pushing bad food down our throats and it is no surprise that 65 per cent of Scots are overweight and 29 per cent are obese. None of this is easy and making weight-loss a New Year resolution rarely works

But when scientists tell us obesity makes us more likely to die during a pandemic with all the demands that places on the NHS, surely coronavirus is the jolt required. Like wearing masks, taking action is the responsible thing for the whole of society.

Short of policing what we put in our supermarket trolleys, politicians have done what they can. Now it is down to the rest of us to take responsibility for our own actions.

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