Obesity rates among adults in the UK have almost quadrupled in the last 25 years. The latest figures show that around one in four Brits fall into this category, with estimates suggesting that more than 60% of adults are now classed as overweight or obese.
Being overweight increases the risks to your health in several ways. For example, it can increase your chances of developing diabetes or heart conditions. And now, new studies have found that being overweight significantly increases your chances of dying from coronavirus.
Here’s everything you need to know about the link between obesity and coronavirus, and what you can do to tackle the risk.
Global study finds being overweight increases the risk of dying from coronavirus
Global analysis of more than 400,000 coronavirus patients has revealed that being obese doubles the risk of hospital treatment from Covid-19 and increases the risk of dying by nearly 50%.
A team from the University of North Carolina looked at data from 75 studies from around the world. They found that people with obesity and Covid-19 were twice as likely to end up in hospital and 74% more likely to be admitted to intensive care.
Professor Barry Popkin, who led the study, said the increased risks of being obese and having Covid-19 were "much higher than expected".
Why does being overweight put you at higher risk?
If you are obese, it is generally because your diet contains more calories than your body uses. This results in you gaining weight. In addition, certain conditions or medications can contribute to weight gain.
Analysis has shown that adipose tissue - or body fat - could be more susceptible to coronavirus as it contains high levels of an enzyme which the virus can attach itself to. If you have excess fat, you are therefore giving the virus more of a chance to gain access to cells in your body.
Studies suggest that being overweight and so allowing this excess tissue to form has a direct impact on areas including respiratory function, inflammation, blood, and immunity – all of which are crucial in the fight against Covid-19.
In addition, if you have excess fat around the chest, experts believe this can impact how well your lungs work. This fat can reduce their function and the circulating levels of oxygen in your body.
US researchers also say that obesity makes other diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure more likely. We have previously looked at diabetes and coronavirus, and how people with diabetes are also at increased risk from the virus.
One of the real concerns from the study is that scientists warn that a vaccine against coronavirus could be less effective in obese people. This is based on the fact that flu vaccines don't work as well in those with a body mass index (BMI) of over 30.
So, if you are overweight, now could be a great time to lose some of that excess weight.
Am I overweight?
The NHS and other agencies use the body mass index (BMI) – calculated using your height and weight – to determine whether you are overweight. A BMI reading of:
•Between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered to be healthy
•Between 25 and 29.9 means you are overweight
•Between 30 and 39.9 means you are obese
•Above 40 is considered severely obese.
Head to the NHS website if you want to calculate your BMI.
An alternative measure of excess fat is waist size. According to the NHS, men with a waist of 94cm (37 inches) or more, and women with a waist of 80cm (31.5 inches) or more, are "more likely to develop obesity-related health problems".
Government launches new anti-obesity campaign
With obesity linked to coronavirus risk, the government has launched a new ‘Better Health’ campaign which will call on people to embrace a healthier lifestyle and to lose weight if they need to.
The campaign will include measures such as:
- Banning the advertising of foods high in fat, sugar or salt on television and online before 9pm. Evidence shows that exposure to advertising can affect what and when children eat, both in the short term and the longer term by shaping children’s preferences at a young age
- Ending ‘buy one, get one free’ promotions on foods high in fat or sugar. There will also be a ban on these items being placed in prominent locations in stores, such as at checkouts and entrances, and online. Shops will be encouraged to promote healthier choices and offer more discounts on food such as fruit and vegetables
- Large restaurants, cafés and takeaways will have to add calorie labels to the food they sell. This will help people make healthier, informed choices as part of a balanced diet
- Expanding NHS weight management services so more people get the support they need to lose weight.
Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said: “Losing weight is hard but with some small changes we can all feel fitter and healthier. If we all do our bit, we can reduce our health risks and protect ourselves against coronavirus – as well as taking pressure off the NHS.”
So, what can you do to lose weight and reduce your coronavirus risk?
3 tips to losing weight and reducing your risk
1. Adopt healthier eating choices
A better diet can help you to shed some excess weight, and it can help you to reduce your risk of other conditions such as diabetes.
- Take the next snack you plan to have and swap it for something healthier. Aim to do the same every day – this is a great way to change your habits
- Drinks contain calories too, so try and cut down on sugary drinks and alcohol
- Eat breakfast. Research suggests people who eat breakfast are slimmer because they tend to eat less during the day – particularly fewer high-calorie snacks. Even if it’s just a piece of fruit, some oats, or a yogurt, try and create the habit of eating in the morning
- Choose a healthier option when you next eat out.
2. Take more exercise
Adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity, every week.
This doesn’t mean going to the gym every day. It’s easy to incorporate some exercise into your daily routine – for example, by:
- Going for a walk. Walk for 30 minutes at a pace that increases your heart rate and makes you a little out of breath
- Cycle to work
- Take the stairs where possible. Climbing stairs counts toward your 150-minute activity target
- Consider a ‘couch to 5k’ programme – a free running plan for complete beginners.
3. Lose weight gradually by changing habits
Fad diets and exercise regimes that result in rapid weight loss are unlikely to work for long. This is because you will likely find it hard to maintain these kinds of lifestyle changes. Once you stop the regime, you're likely to return to old habits and regain weight.
You are better off trying to make small changes that create new habits, such as healthier snacks, eating breakfast, or going for a regular walk.
The NHS says, ‘the best way to lose weight is to make long-term changes to diet and physical activity that result in a steady rate of weight loss’. Aim to lose around 0.5kg to 1kg a week (1lb to 2lb), until you achieve a healthy BMI.
Get the life insurance or Critical Illness cover you need
If you want to ensure that you and your family are protected should the worst happen, life insurance and Critical Illness cover can provide this peace of mind.
The cost of your cover is determined by a range of factors including your height, weight, and BMI. So, if you are overweight, it may increase the cost of your cover.
So, losing weight not only reduces your coronavirus risk but can also result in lower insurance premiums.
Even if you are overweight, or you have been diagnosed with diabetes or another condition, you may still be able to get cover. As independent experts, we work closely with the leading insurers to obtain the protection you need – so get in touch to find out how we can help.
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