junk food burger obesity

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  • PHE suggested obese people were more likely to become victims of coronavirus

  • The report found Covid-19 deaths in the UK’s most deprived areas were more than double those in the least deprived areas


Campaign groups have stepped up their calls for a clampdown on the “flood” of marketing of unhealthy products after a report by Public Health England suggested people with obesity were more likely to become victims of the coronavirus outbreak.

PHE’s report sparked fresh anger over the government’s decision to suspend its obesity plans because of the crisis. It also showed mortality rates from Covid-19 in the most deprived areas in the UK had been more than double those in the least deprived areas.

Plans put back because of the outbreak include new targets on salt and calories, a clampdown on HFSS promotions and restrictions on advertising of unhealthy food to children.

However, the report highlighted figures from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre, from data up to 21 May 2020. These showed that 7.7% of patients critically ill in intensive care units with confirmed Covid-19 were morbidly obese, compared with 2.9% of the general population (after adjusting for age and sex).

The study also showed a relationship between BMI and death from Covid-19. It referenced a study of more than 400,000 patients aged 40 to 69 from UK Biobank, linked to Covid-19 test data from PHE, which found that higher BMI was associated with a positive Covid-19 diagnosis.

Another study by OpenSafely found a relationship between death from Covid-19 and BMI when controlling for demographics and other health issues, said PHE.

A series of campaign groups told The Grocer the study showed the need for the government to breathe new life into its battle against obesity.


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“Before this emergency, progress had already stalled on a whole set of government proposals regarding advertising, promotional offers, energy drinks, extension of the sugary drinks tax and better nutritional food labelling, ” said Children’s Food Campaign co-ordinator Barbara Crowther.

“We’ve seen how, even during this coronavirus crisis and all the risk to public health, junk food brands have indulged in a range of marketing tactics, from sending pizzas into schools and hospitals, running competitions to recreate their products and their ads, providing branded backgrounds for video calls with your friends, and advertising during family shows like Britain’s Got Talent.”

She added: “There was already good evidence to support all of these measures, but these latest insights on links between diet-related diseases and higher risk of a bad outcome from Covid-19 now provide an even more urgent imperative to dust off the plans and move to concrete action. We need our children to grow up healthier and more resilient, and the time to act is now.”

Obesity UK director Sarah Le Brocq added: “People living with obesity are faced with stigma and discrimination on a daily basis, Society doesn’t understand the complexities of obesity and are told the solution is ‘eat less, move more’. This is absolutely not the case, there are over 100 factors that contribute to why someone lives with obesity. (Foresight Report 2007).

“It’s time to change the narrative and behaviours towards people living with obesity and we hope this will be a step towards doing this.”

Katharine Jenner, campaign director of Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, said: “This report is another in a long line of reports that clearly shows the devastating effect inequality has in widening health outcomes, in this case for Covid-19.

“Before the PHE review, we already knew that those living with obesity had an increased risk of adverse outcomes from Covid-19, yet no action was being taken to address it.

“Although there is an element of personal responsibility in both the treatment and prevention of obesity, this can only be achieved with equitable access to healthy, affordable food. This is far from a reality for millions of Britons.

“It is even more critical than ever for the food and drink industry, including the hospitality sector, to stop flooding us with unhealthy food options to keep us healthy - both now and in the future.”