The new covid-19 lockdown rules are constantly and quite rightly hitting the headlines as we strive to reduce the true and potentially serious health risks this coronavirus offers each and every one of us.
Increased coronavirus symptom severity and mortality has been proven to be closely linked to excess body weight and obesity.
It is therefore not just the pandemic's rising rates of infection which are a real cause of worry. Tackling obesity should be central to our thoughts, any new covid-19 lockdown rules and beyond this pandemic's second wave.
With over 60% of the UK population classed as overweight the majority of us face a stark decision especially during the pandemic.
In light of the new covid-19 lockdown rules, and as members of the general public, we may well ask ourselves:
“Is the pandemic worth the fuss for me? Am I really at a health risk? Do I truly want to lose my excess weight?”
For healthcare professionals their personal struggles with weight (yes GPs, pharmacists etc are not immune to obesity) should not restrict their advice. Everyone should be, well must be, encouraged to take these obesity questions as seriously as possible.
Unfortunately, this anti-obesity message is just not being communicated by our government and NHS. Food labelling, traffic light systems and sugar taxes are just a sticking plater at best. These are simply not serious enough measures to effect a reversal of excess weight and obesity-related medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes. They are definitely not going to impact quickly enough for the obese most at risk during the current pandemic.
Obesity and excess weight matter.
It matters a lot!
If you still think tackling obesity is just about fat-shaming, stigmatising and beauty then you must think again.
Take this article on a Lancet publication from the Telegraph as an example..
In this well written article (please take a moment to read it) they recognise the inadequacy of the government’s actions and highlight “non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – diseases that are not passed on from person-to-person – now make up 88 percent of the overall disease burden in the UK.” Covid-19 is a communicable disease and so is within the remaining 12%.
Not only is obesity linked to increased and significantly severe Covid-19 outcomes, it is also “associated with 236 medical diseases, including 13 types of cancers.”
What Are the Health Risks Linked to Obesity?
There are several medical conditions that are associated with obesity. If you have obesity, you are more likely to develop one or more of them. It is a long list and may feel overwhelming, but it is important to understand the risks associated with obesity. Speaking to your health care provider about managing obesity, including losing weight, is an important first step that will reduce the risk of developing many of the below conditions.
Cancer occurs when a population of cells grows and divides too much. The cells can end up invading and destroying adjacent tissues and may spread to far away body parts to cause damage.
If you have obesity, you are at higher risk of developing different types of cancer, including:
- Breast cancer
- Cervical cancer (cancer of the cervix in females)
- Colon cancer (cancerous growths in the colon, rectum, and appendix)
- Esophageal cancer (cancerous growths of the esophagus)
- Pancreatic cancer (cancerous growths within the pancreatic gland)
- Prostate cancer (a disease in which cancer develops in the prostate, a gland in the male reproductive system)
- Renal cell carcinoma (also known as a gurnistical tumor, is the most common form of kidney cancer arising from the renal tubule)
- Uterine cancer. Uterine cancer may refer to one of several different types of cancer which occur in the uterus. These include endometrial cancers, cervical cancer, and sarcomas of the myometrium, or muscular layer of the uterus.
Coronary heart disease and stroke
Coronary heart disease, ischemic heart disease or atherosclerotic heart disease, as well as stroke, are more likely if a person has high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which often accompany obesity. The symptoms of the heart conditions can go unnoticed or may not even show until advanced stages, so controlling body fat and managing obesity has important implications. Even losing small amounts of body fat can help reduce chances of developing these heart conditions.
Type 2 diabetes
Obesity is one of the key risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Losing weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes frequent activity can reduce the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.
Liver and biliary diseases
Obesity can also increase the risk of developing a variety of diseases associated with the liver and your bile ducts. This is due to increased accumulation of fats in the liver and other tissue. See below some of the diseases of the liver and bile ducts that can result.
- Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). NASH is a type of liver disease characterized by inflammation of the liver in addition to fat accumulation in the liver. NASH may progress to cirrhosis, which is therefore also associated with obesity. Diet, exercise and especially drugs that control blood glucose levels may alter the course of the disease.
- Cirrhosis. Cirrhosis of the liver is a consequence of chronic liver disease that can lead to progressive loss of liver function.
- Steatosis. Steatosis (also called fatty change) occurs when fats stay within a cell. It reflects an imbalance in the production and breakdown of a type of fat called triglycerides.
- Gallbladder disease. Gallbladder disease, such as inflammation of the organ, and gallstones can occur if you have obesity. Although losing weight reduces the chances, speak to your health care provider about how to do so, as losing a lot of weight at once can actually increase the likelihood of getting gallstones.
Obesity may increase the chances of having problems with breathing and the lungs, including the following conditions:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), also known as chronic obstructive airway disease (COAD), is a group of diseases characterized by limited airflow in the airways of the body. COPD is the umbrella term for chronic bronchitis, emphysema and a range of other disorders.
- Hypoventilation syndrome, also known as congenital central hypoventilation syndrome or primary alveolar hypoventilation, is a respiratory disorder that is fatal if untreated. Persons afflicted with Ondine's curse classically suffer from respiratory arrest during sleep.
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can cause problems during sleep due to heavy snoring and brief moments where a person stops breathing. It can lead to daytime sleepiness and increases the chance of heart disease and stroke. Weight loss can help alleviate the occurrence of sleep apnea.
Other health risks
Obesity has been associated with several other health risks:
Osteoarthritis (a wearing down of protective tissue between bones and at joints)
Sexual dysfunction, including infertility, hypogonadism or polycystic ovarian syndrome
Skin diseases such as skin tags (benign tumors that form where skin creases) or acanthosis
Severe pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas gland)
Cataracts (an opacity that forms in the lens of the eye that can lead to problems with sight)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD; damage to the barrier between the stomach and esophagus)
Edema (build-up of fluids in the spaces within organs that causes swelling)
Urinary incontinence (unintentional loss of urine control)
With so many of our health risks residing outside of the direct effect of Covid-19 it is paramount we also concentrate on the non-communicable diseases.
The new covid-19 lockdown rules do not offer the opportunity to shy away from taking obesity seriously, we must collectively not take our eye off the ball.