The Government has announced £100 million funding to support families to maintain healthier weight as a new report finds increased bodyweight is the second greatest predictor of hospitalisation and a high risk of death for people suffering from Covid-19.

The World Obesity Foundation report - COVID-19 and Obesity: The 2021 Atlas The cost of not addressing the global obesity crisis - says that the unprecedented economic costs of Covid-19 are largely due to the measures taken to avoid the excess hospitalisation and need for treatment of the disease. By reducing one major risk factor, overweight, would have resulted in far less stress on health services and reduced the need to protect those services from being overwhelmed.

The report shows that in those countries where overweight affects only a minority of the adult population, the rates of death from Covid-19 were typically less than one tenth the levels found in countries where overweight affects the majority of adults.  It also show that the drivers of overweight – especially high levels of consumption of processed foods – are associated with mortality from Covid-19. 

The report adds that Covid-19 is not a special case as a number of other respiratory viruses lead to more severe consequences in people living with excess bodyweight, giving good reasons to expect the next pandemic to have similar effects. 

Investment on weight management services

Professor Rachel Batterham, Royal College of Physicians' lead adviser on obesity, said: “The link between high levels of obesity and deaths from Covid-19 in the UK is indisputable, as is the urgent need to address the factors that lead so many people to be living with obesity.

“With 30% of Covid-19 hospitalisations in the UK directly attributed to overweight and obesity, and three quarters of all critically ill patients having overweight or obesity, the human and financial costs are high.

“If the government is serious about tackling the obesity crisis, it first needs to implement a cross-government strategy to address health inequalities, including providing access to weight management services for those who are struggling to manage their weight.”

Over £70 million will be invested into weight management services – made available through the NHS and councils – enabling up to 700,000 adults to have access to support that can help them to lose weight. This includes access to digital apps, weight management groups or individual coaches, and specialist clinical support.

The Government says this funding will support GPs and other health professionals to help make weight management an integral part of routine care and encourage clinicians to have conversations about weight with their patients and enable them to refer patients to new services.

The remaining £30 million will fund initiatives to help people maintain a healthy weight, including access to the free NHS 12-week weight loss plan app and continuing the successful Better Health marketing campaign to motivate people to make healthier choices.

The plans will prioritise helping those who need the most support to achieve a healthier lifestyle, including people living in some of the most deprived areas of the country.

Professor Jonathan Valabhji, National Clinical Director for Diabetes and Obesity, said: "Obesity is associated with higher risks of type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, many of the common cancers and is now linked with more severe Covid-19 outcomes, so there does indeed need to be wider action to support people to lose weight."