The coronavirus pandemic should give the food industry increased impetus to make healthier products, according to experts, after an NHS audit in the UK revealed over three quarters (76.5%) of critically ill coronavirus patients are overweight.

The report from the London-based Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre looked at the data of 196 patients admitted to critical care with confirmed COVID-19 up to 19 March 2020. Of these, 57 were female and 139 were male, with an average age of 64. Only 23 of the patients previously required ‘some assistance with daily activities’ prior to the onset of acute illness. The rest, 155, were previously independent and able to live without assistance.

According to the NHS, for most adults, a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 means you’re a healthy weight; 25 to 29.9 means you’re overweight; 30 to 39.9 means you’re obese; 40 or above means you’re severely obese

Out of the 196 patients in critical care, 56 patients had a BMI of 25–30, 58 had a BMI of 30–40 and 13 had a BMI of 40 or higher.

obesity snip source CNARC
Critically ill coronavirus patients had were more likely to be overweight. Source: ICNARC

Why the link between obesity and covid?

Coronaviruses can cause more severe symptoms and complications in people with obesity-related conditions, according to the World health Organisation.

The American College of Cardiology says there is consensus among experts that both coronary artery disease and heart failure (HF) patients are at increased risk of acute events or exacerbations from viral respiratory infections, with other comorbidities (diabetes, obesity, hypertension, COPD, kidney disease) further increasing risk.

Many believe these factors put the onus on the food industry to make healthier products once the pressure on the industry to fill shelves and avoid the threat of food rationing eases.

In a tweet, Christopher Elliott, Professor of Food Safety at Queen’s University Belfast and founder of the Institute for Global Food Security, said: “Quite a number of us had warned about how our diet is killing us. The stats show that almost 2/3rds of critically ill coronavirus patients are overweight. Another critical focal point once we get COVID done.”

A spokesperson from the British Nutrition Foundation told FoodNavigator: “With so much pressure on the food system at the moment, the food industry can play a key role in ensuring consumers can access a variety of foods as part of a balanced diet and may also be able to contribute by providing guidance for consumers on making the most of what they have in their cupboards and putting together healthy and tasty meals from the ingredients they can find in stores.”