The findings an editorial piece called Obesity and COVID-19: the role of the food industry

The food industry must share the blame for obesity pandemic and the severity of Covid-19, according to an editorial published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Titled ‘Obesity and Covid-19: the role of the food industry’, it suggests there are several possible reasons behind the relationship between obesity and Covid-19, with 78% of confirmed infections and 62% of deaths in hospitals from the virus in the UK affecting overweight or obese individuals.

As a result, the report calls for the global food industry to immediately stop promoting unhealthy food and drinks adding that governments must force reformulation to remove the ‘huge and unnecessary amount of sugar, saturated fat and salt’ added.

This, authors Monique Tan, Feng J He, Graham A MacGregor said, would improve the diet of the entire population and bring even greater benefits for those more socially deprived.

Several mechanisms could explain the relationship between obesity and COVID-19, as obesity:

  • Leads to larger quantities of ACE2 in the body – the enzyme exploited by the virus for cell entry
  • Diminishes the immune response
  • Reduces lung function.

“It is now clear that the food industry shares the blame not only for the obesity pandemic but for the severity of Covid-19 disease and its devastating consequences,” the article states.

It also highlighted corporate social responsibility initiatives launched during the pandemic with what it described as ‘thinly veiled tactics using the outbreak as a marketing opportunity’ – referencing the donation of doughnuts to NHS staff.

“Unlike most other risk factors identified for Covid-19 such as age, sex and ethnicity – obesity is a modifiable risk factor,” said Graham MacGregor CBE, co-author of the study, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Barts and The London Hospital and chairman of Action on Sugar.

“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.”