High obesity rate in U.S. to blame for having one of world's worst COVID-19 rates, study finds

World Obesity Federation found 90% of COVID deaths occurred in countries in which more than half of adults are overweight

Updated: March 4, 2021 - 3:40pm

The World Obesity Federation has found that COVID-19 deaths have been 10 times higher in countries in which more than half of adults are overweight – and 90% of all deaths from the virus worldwide have occurred there.

The federation said the connection may account for the high death rate in the U.S., in which 69.7% of its adult population is overweight. That means nearly 70 million adult Americans are obese.

Nearly 518,000 Americans have died of the virus. That's nearly double the next closest nation, Brazil, which has had some 259,000 deaths from COVID-19. But when the size of a country's population is factored in, the U.S. has the eighth-worst COVID-19 death rate, with 152.5 victims per 100,000 people.

Many health agencies in states across the U.S. have included obesity as a chronic conditions that allows people earlier access to COVID-19 vaccines, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended. 

The WHO called the findings a "wake-up call" for the West, where sedentary jobs and fattening fast food mean more obesity.

The federation said 2.2 million of the world's 2.5 million COVID-19  deaths so far have occurred in countries where 50% or more of the population is overweight. 

"Increased body weight is the second greatest predictor of hospitalization and a high risk of death for people suffering from Covid-19," the report said.

"Only old age rates as a higher risk factor. The unprecedented economic costs of Covid-19 are largely due to the measures taken to avoid the excess hospitalization and need for treatment of the disease," the federation said. "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."

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