Food industry 'must share blame' of coronavirus severity

The food industry must share blame for both the obesity crisis and the severity of coronavirus, academics have claimed.

The academics believe that the food industry should take some responsibility for the severity of the coronavirus crisis.
The academics believe that the food industry should take some responsibility for the severity of the coronavirus crisis.

An editorial by researchers at Queen Mary University of London, published today in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), claims that the obesity pandemic is not the fault of individuals, but the result of living in a food environment where it is very difficult not to over-consume calories; putting people at a much higher risk of type 2 diabetes, strokes, heart disease, cancer - and now COVID-19.

The article said that increasing evidence is now demonstrating that obesity is a risk factor for more severe illness and death from COVID-19. It said that in the UK, individuals who were overweight or obese made up 78 per cent of the confirmed COVID-19 infections and 62 per cent of the COVID-19 deaths in hospitals.

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The researchers explained that obesity leads to larger quantities of ACE2 in the body – the enzyme exploited by the virus for cell entry; diminishes the immune response and reduces lung function.

Graham MacGregor, co-author of the study and professor of cardiovascular medicine at Barts and The London Hospital, said: “Unlike most other risk factors identified for COVID-19 such as age, sex and ethnicity – obesity is a modifiable risk factor. This is why governments worldwide must seize the opportunity to help people to eat more healthily and enforce measures to restrict the promotion, marketing, and advertising of unhealthy foods and ensure their reformulation to contain far less salt, sugar, and saturated fat. This would reduce mortality from this vicious virus and many other chronic diseases.”

The researchers warned that governmental measures to address unhealthy diets have been put on hold due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Monique Tan, co-author of the study and PhD Researcher at Queen Mary University of London said: “Obesity is the major cause of type 2 diabetes which, in itself, is another potentially modifiable risk factor for more severe COVID-19. However, long planned and awaited governmental measures to address this have been put on hold due to the COVID-19 outbreak, at a time when they have never been more necessary.

Feng He, co-author of the study and professor of global health research at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine said: “The world is facing two pandemics. One immediately, COVID-19 and the other a longer- term crisis with obesity. Clear evidence has emerged that the two pandemics interact. This is a major opportunity for governments and the food industry to prevent unnecessary suffering and death worldwide.”

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Joy Yates

Editorial Director