Scientists have said the food industry “shares the blame” for the coronavirus crisis.
Early research suggests four out of five cases are mild, however, obesity was identified early in the outbreak as a risk factor for the respiratory disease COVID-19.
With the UK death toll exceeding 40,000, a team from Queen Mary University of London have argued the food industry contributed to the fatalities by expanding our waistlines.
The “majority” of adults in England have a dangerously high body mass index (BMI), with 67% of men and 60% of women either obese or overweight.
A UK study of 340 patients admitted to hospital with the coronavirus found being overweight increased the risk by 44%, while obesity almost doubled the odds.
This is after adjusting for other factors that have been linked to COVID-19, like age and being male.
Further analysis has revealed a “dose dependent relationship” between a patient’s BMI and the severity of coronavirus complications.
With the coronavirus outbreak being linked to everything from a faltering global economy to poor mental health, the Queen Mary scientists believe the food industry has a lot to answer for.
“The obesity pandemic is the result of living in food environments where it is difficult not to over-consume calories,” they wrote in The BMJ.
“The global food industry produces and extensively promotes cheap, sugar-sweetened beverages and ultra-processed foods high in salt, sugar, and saturated fat that provide only a transient sensation of fullness.
“It is now clear the food industry shares the blame not only for the obesity pandemic but also for the severity of COVID-19 disease and its devastating consequences”.
Food poverty – an inability to access a nutritious diet, supply chain disruptions and pandemic panic buying all limit access to fresh produce, “thus tilting the balance towards a greater consumption of highly-processed foods and those with long shelf lives that are usually high in salt, sugar, and saturated fat”.
Cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra agreed, previously saying the “root of [obesity] is poor diet”.
Speaking on BBC Sounds, he specifically blamed ultra-processed food, which reportedly makes up around half of the average person’s daily calorie intake.
“If you have a poor diet [and] excess body fat, you have chronic inflammation in the body; it’s under stress and being damaged,” he said.
The Queen Mary scientists have also accused the food industry of using the pandemic as a marketing opportunity, like giving out free doughnuts to NHS staff.
Coronavirus aside, obesity is known to cause type 2 diabetes, heart disease and even certain cancers.
The scientists are therefore calling on the government to do more to “reformulate unhealthy foods and drinks”.
“Reducing salt, sugar, and saturated fat across the board would improve the diet of the entire population and bring even greater benefits for people who are most socially deprived,” they wrote.
“The toll of morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 has made this more apparent and more urgent than ever.”