Coronavirus health crisis has worsened another epidemic: Obesity

According to a new WHO report, the problem is already reaching ‘epidemic levels’ in Europe

A medical consultation at Virgen Macarena Hospital in Seville, Spain.
A medical consultation at Virgen Macarena Hospital in Seville, Spain.HOSPITAL VIRGEN MACARENA (Europa Press)

Since nearly the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, hospital officials noticed that overweight patients were at higher risk of severe Covid-19 and death. Now, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the pandemic has worsened obesity, a public health problem that has been on the rise for the past three decades. The situation, according to a report presented on Tuesday, is already reaching “epidemic levels” in Europe.

A person is considered overweight when their body mass index (BMI) is between 25 and 30, and obese, when it is above 30. These conditions are characterized by an excess of fat in the body. People living with these conditions are much more likely to also suffer from respiratory, cardiovascular and liver problems, as well as musculoskeletal and psychological ailments.

The report found that about 60% of adults and a third of children in Europe are overweight or obese. More worrying still, is that there are no signs that the upward trend will change. Not a single country in Europe is on track to stop the rise in obesity by 2025, the document showed.

According to the report, 62% of adults in Spain are overweight or obese, placing it ninth on the list of 53 countries studied. This percentage rises to almost 70% among men and drops to just over half among women. The data corresponds to 2016, although experts and the report itself argue that the situation has worsened since then.

The document cites a recent investigation into the impact of the pandemic on obesity levels, which was published last September in the medical journal International Journal of Obesity. This paper by researchers at Leipzig Children’s Hospital in Germany found “substantial weight gain across all weight and age groups” during the pandemic. The study concluded that restrictions on mobility and other measures such as the closure of schools exacerbated the problem of obesity.

Research in recent years has shown the large number of variables that influence obesity. Some are linked with the same factors, such as food consumption and family history, while others concern endocrine disruptors that are found in many everyday products. The development of the condition is also influenced by educational policies, urban planning and issues such as advertising.

“It is a disease in which extremely complex mechanisms are involved, by which the body develops ways to spend less energy and thus save it. The image of sufferers being people who eat too much and move too little is insultingly simple. The disease has a genetic basis, but many other factors are involved that will make the genes express themselves in one way or another,” explained Albert Goday, the head of the endocrinology department at Del Mar Hospital in Barcelona, Spain.

For this reason, the WHO report proposes a global approach to address the problem with measures such as raising taxes and restricting the sale of less healthy foods and beverages; applying subsidies to “increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables;” developing wide-ranging education campaigns; promoting healthier lifestyle habits at school and the workplace; and making cities more pedestrian-friendly.

“Obesity is a global problem that has not stopped rising in the last 30 years,” said Goday. “If there is a response that tries to be global it is this WHO report.”

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