Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


Obese and hungry: two faces of a nation

BMJ 2020; 370 doi: (Published 06 August 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;370:m3084

Read our latest coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

Linked Editorial

Covid-19 exposes the UK’s broken food system

Rapid Response:

The pandemic intensifying the obesity epidemic

Dear Editor,

Overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health. According to studies conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) the global burden of disease has grown to epidemic proportions, and over 4 million individuals died each year as a result of being overweight or obese (WHO, 2020).

Rates of overweight and obesity continue to grow in adults and children. Data gathered for the period 1975 to 2016, revealed that the prevalence of overweight or obese children and adolescents aged 5–19 years increased more than four-fold from 4% to 18% internationally. Obesity was previously considered a problem only in high-income nations, overweight and obesity are now radically on the rise in low- and middle-income nations, particularly in the metropolitan settings. The vast majority of overweight or obese children live in developing countries, where the rate of increase has been more than 30% higher than that of developed countries (WHO, 2020).

With the COVID 19 pandemic this issue will continue to be a challenge as an important intervention utilized globally to combat the COVID-19 pandemic has been the implementation of social distancing. To enable this measure, governments have enforced interventions, such as lockdowns, in the public and private sectors. In countries with obesogenic environs, this outcome might exacerbate rates of obesity and obesity-linked metabolic comorbidities. Socioeconomic status and risk of obesity, a widening societal inequality propelled by the government strategies against COVID-19 might translate into an increase in obesity occurrence and metabolic diseases in groups with a lower socioeconomic status. This is as a result of an abundance of highly processed, energy-rich, palatable, cheap and readily available foods which promotes calorie intake beyond energetic needs, these foods are usually selected by persons with a lower socioeconomic status who have limited income and resources (Clemmensen, Petersen, & Sørensen, 2020).

This problem will be further escalated as person may also have lost their jobs and have to eat what is readily available to prevent starvation even though it may not be nutritional adequate. I agree with the writer regarding the notion that efforts to solve the underlying socioeconomic inequalities which dictate dietary and health choices are paramount to addressing obesity. I will also add that these individuals need to be in agreement with the stated solution for this to be a success. If this is not adhered to the pandemic will further escalate the epidemic of obesity. As home confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic affords a different food cue exposure, which could challenge the person’s mental restraint and increase impulsive eating behaviour.

Additionally, emotional eating is often used to relieve negative feelings, which might increase under these circumstances (Clemmensen, Petersen, & Sørensen, 2020). I am also in agreement that efforts to improve access to healthy foods are more important than policy which limits unhealthy dietary behaviours; as well as individual commitment towards reducing the occurrence of obesity/overweight as this is far more favourable that the consequences of it later in life.


Clemmensen, C., Petersen, M. B., & Sørensen, T. I. (2020). Will the COVID-19 pandemic worsen the obesity epidemic?. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 1-2.

World Health Organization (2020). Obesity Retrieved from

Competing interests: No competing interests

24 August 2020
Mickelle N. Emanuel-Frith
Registered Nurse, Midwife, Public Health Nurse
Mona, Kingston 7