There’s a well-known phrase (in English): There’s an “elephant in the room.”
It refers to an obvious problem or situation that most people see but don’t want to talk about or acknowledge.
There’s an “elephant in the room” has particular relevance in the ongoing economic devastation, personal anxiety, and over-reaching restrictions imposed by politicians and health officials, especially in the U.S. and U.K., in regard to fighting the COVID War.
As we’ve been noting in this and numerous issues of the Trends Journal, one of the highest-risk groups dying from COVID-19 are the clinically obese.
On 10 June, the medical journal BMJ published an editorial citing the high-risk factor of those who are obese contracting COVID-19 and calling on governments to take a more active role in educating and helping to prevent the rise in obesity.
One author, Professor Graham MacGregor of the Queen Mary University of London, said, “I think people have recognized now that based on every study you look at – including the early studies in China which were open studies, then from Europe, then from New York – they all show obesity increases the severity of COVID-19 and increases mortality.”
Stating what has been virtually taboo in the mainstream media and among politicians, he said, “If you’re elderly and male and obese, I would be seriously worried and would do anything to try and lose weight and eat more healthily and take more exercise.”
Mr. MacGregor suggested, “Those are sensible things to do and the government should be encouraging people to do that, but of course they’re not.”
Dr. David Kass, Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University, wrote a letter in the medical journal Lancet in April citing that many younger COVID-19 patients coming into hospitals were obese. He predicted as the virus spread, areas with higher rates of obesity would be worse.
Dr. Kass also noted that obesity in men is more dangerous than women: “If you take a man and woman side by side with the same B.M.I. [body mass index], the male is much more likely to have the background problems for being at risk.”
Last month, a study from Columbia University revealed that clinically obese people who had contracted COVID-19 were 60 percent more likely to die.
One question still remaining was whether health problems associated with obesity, such as difficulty breathing and metabolism issues, were significantly adding to the mortality rate or was the gross weight itself the culprit?
This question has been answered by a new study published on 12 August in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study clearly showed that the excess weight, in and of itself, was the health issue among men of all age groups. As with previous studies, obese women were found to be less at risk due to the way the weight is distributed through the body.
Dr. Sara Tartof, research scientist at Kaiser Permanente Medical Care in Southern California, where the study took place and its lead author, said, “Body mass index is a really important, strong independent risk factor for death among those who are diagnosed with COVID-19.”
The study identified that obesity makes it difficult for the body to clear respiratory infections, and fat is a generator of inflammatory agents that weaken the immune system, making it easier for the virus to wreak havoc.
Follow the Fat
The first two countries where the coronavirus was reported to spread, China and Italy, have relatively low obesity rates, so excessive weight wasn’t identified as a significant factor early on. But as the virus moved into countries with higher obesity rates, physicians started noticing it as a trend, particularly among younger patients.
In China, only some 6 percent are clinically obese. In Italy, it’s around 20 percent. But in the United States, where more have died from COVID-19 than anywhere in the world, around 42 percent of the population suffer from extreme overweight. The U.K. and Mexico, also finding it difficult among modern, industrialized countries to reopen their economies, both have obesity rates close to 30 percent.
It should be noted that increases in obesity worldwide have been a major trend for some time. According to the WHO, the worldwide prevalence of obesity has nearly tripled between 1975 and 2016.
Minorities Suffer the Most
Obesity rates are afflicting Black and Hispanics at higher rates than Whites. The facts of who suffer most and the costs to individual health and society are detailed in CDC website:
Adult Obesity Facts
- The prevalence of obesity was 42.4% in 2017–2018. [Read CDC brief]
- From 1999–2000 through 2017–2018, the prevalence of obesity increased from 30.5% to 42.4%, and the prevalence of severe obesity increased from 4.7% to 9.2%. [Read CDC-NCHS brief]
- Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer that are some of the leading causes of preventable, premature death. [Read evidence review report]
- The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was $147 billion in 2008 US dollars; the medical cost for people who have obesity was $1,429 higher than those of normal weight. [Read abstract]
Obesity affects some groups more than others:
- Non-Hispanic blacks (49.6%) had the highest age-adjusted prevalence of obesity, followed by Hispanics (44.8%), non-Hispanic whites (42.2%) and non-Hispanic Asians (17.4%).
- The prevalence of obesity was 40.0% among young adults aged 20 to 39 years, 44.8% among middle-aged adults aged 40 to 59 years, and 42.8% among adults aged 60 and older.
As for Blacks and Latinos having higher COVID death rates, Dr. Tartof said, “We see that racial and ethnic minorities are having more bad outcomes. They are also more likely to be obese or to have less access to health care.”
Those with extreme obesity are dying at nearly three times the rate of those with more normal weight. And those with BMIs over 45 (extreme obesity) are four times more likely to die if contracting the virus.
Dr. Tartof, echoing the words from dozens of previously published studies on obesity, called on more attention being paid to this enormous health issue: “There is a lot of work we can do to better combat COVID and a lot we can do to improve our strategies on obesity as well. It is also an epidemic, and something we need to pay attention to.”
On 27 May, a group of 200 U.K. doctors and health care professionals signed a letter to government ministers warning of chronic illnesses from unhealthy diets, which are adding to the death toll from COVID-19. Among the specific actions they recommended:
- “Increased taxation on both retail and out-of-home food containing high levels of fat and salt, and a new tax on food produced using ingredients derived from industrial animal agriculture.
- The ban on junk food advertising is accelerated and made total.”
TRENDPOST: Meanwhile, in the United States, according to the latest data, about $15 billion of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food stamps are being used to buy junk food.
It should be noted this is the government program with the stated goal of helping poorer Americans “make healthy food choices within a limited budget.”