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How Covid-19 Has Turned the Spotlight Back on Obesity: QuickTake

Nearly Half of Americans Trying to Lose Weight, CDC Data Show
Photographer: David Paul Morris
Updated on

The coronavirus highlighted the risks created by another escalating health emergency: obesity. The prevalence of obesity has almost tripled in the past four decades and is still rising. Obese people have a higher risk of suffering complications or dying from Covid-19, while also being vulnerable to diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. The United Nations warned in 2020 that obesity is a “global pandemic in its own right.” Tougher rules have forced more disclosure on food labels. Now money managers concerned about the social impact of their investments are putting pressure on food companies to take action.

Being obese, which generally means having a body mass index of 30 or more, decreases lung capacity and is linked to impaired immune function. Obese people diagnosed with Covid-19 were more than twice as likely to be hospitalized, 74% more likely to need an intensive care unit and 48% more likely to die, according to a study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Research has also linked obesity to lower responses to numerous vaccines. Meanwhile a U.K. survey found twice as many people put on weight as lost it during the initial pandemic lockdown in early 2020.