COVID-19 has put renewed focus on obesity. As the New York Post recently reported, countries with high obesity rates such as the UK have nearly 90 percent of COVID-19 deaths, compared with countries that have less obesity such as Vietnam.
Medically, obese people are more likely to contract COVID-19, suffer greater morbidity, and are more likely to transmit the virus than non-obese people. But that’s only part of the story. COVID-19 has also increased national obesity thanks to lockdowns and forced disruptions of normal life.
Pre-COVID in 2019, more than 40 percent of adults were obese in the United States according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System. A 2018 National Center for Health Statistics report (pdf) found the average weight of American men in 2015–2016 was 197.9 pounds and women 170.6, up from 172.2 pounds and 144.2, respectively, in the years 1976–1980. Some joke it’s the United States’ gross national product.
And COVID-19 has made things worse. A 2020 American Psychological Association survey found that over half of the U.S. adults interviewed gained weight during the pandemic; two out of five gained an average of 29 pounds and 10 percent gained more than 50 pounds. Clearly, obesity is a bi-directional COVID-19 issue.
As Americans now carry unprecedented weight, the fat acceptance and body positivity movements proclaiming that it’s fine to be fat and the only issues are social acceptance are irresponsible. Certainly people should not be stigmatized for failing to match idealized physical ideals, but obesity is hardly just about aesthetics. People carrying excess weight are at greater risk of mortality, hypertension, high LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, and many cancers says the CDC. The “fat but fit” meme that has been floated in recent years is dangerous and false.
Obesity Is Afflicting the Young With Serious Consequences
Obesity is now especially prominent among Millennials who are on board to become the heaviest generation in history according to Cancer Research UK. So many Millennials are now overweight, it appears a “new normal” has become the ideal standard. Some ask if the larger sizes are cultural rebellion against straight society like green hair roots, snake eyes tongue piercings, and sampling other genders.
Sadly, obesity-related cancers have followed the obesity in the young. “Millennials have about double the risk of some cancers compared to Baby Boomers at [the] same age,” wrote the American Cancer Society about a 2019 study of obesity-related cancers that appeared in the Lancet.
Multiple myeloma, colorectal, uterine corpus, gallbladder, kidney, and pancreatic cancer incidence were higher in adults 25 to 49 years. “The risk of developing an obesity-related cancer seems to be increasing in a stepwise manner in successively younger birth cohorts in the USA,” wrote the researchers.
Obesity Reasons—and Results
There are clear reasons for the rising obesity in Americans and young adults. Fattening, processed food and its marketing have never been more ubiquitous. “Working at home” often meant “snacking at home” during the year-long COVID shutdown. Many fitness centers have been closed and sedentary “screen culture” edged out outdoor leisure activities for many even before COVID-19.
Still the negative obesity statistics even before COVID-19 should not be ignored
According to the CDC, obesity disqualifies almost a third of people between 17 and 24 from U.S. military service, an underreported fact. Obesity-related medical care costs in the United States are approximately $147 billion annually.
It’s not just taxpayers and the military who suffer. Obese individuals spend more on their health care per year than normal-sized people according to U.S. News and World Report and have lower incomes according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Obesity should not be shamed, which can cause a person to self-exile from important health care visits and treatment—and to overeat more. But neither should obesity be accepted, especially during COVID-19, as just harmless variations in human size or a condition a person has no control over. No one is born obese and its correlation with overeating is close to 100 percent.
Martha Rosenberg is a former advertising copywriter who knows a lot about marketing. She began as an investigative journalist and since has been on TV and radio as a health expert. Martha has taught about drug marketing tactics at a Chicago medical school and is part of the FDA press corps. Her book “Born with a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks, and Hacks Pimp the Public Health,” exposes what goes on behind the scenes in the food and drug industries.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.