Covid-19 impact on those who are obese should encourage better eating – expert

Study indicates obesity increases risk of dying from Covid-19 by almost 50 per cent

The impact Covid-19 is having on those who are clinically obese should act as a spur to encourage more people to eat better and exercise more according to one of Ireland’s most pre-eminent food health experts.

A major international data study published this week indicates obesity increases the risk of dying from Covid-19 by almost 50 per cent and may make vaccines less effective.

Speaking ahead of an address at an global health sciences meeting hosted by UCD on Thursday the college’s Professor of Public Health Pat Wall told The Irish Times that the way Covid-19 targets overweight people should serve as a wake-up call for individuals and health professionals.

“This is a time when everyone is paying attention to their diets and looking for ways they can give themselves an edge,” he said.


“That means we have an opportunity to really remind people of the impact the food they eat has on their health. We all know that we should eat more healthily but if people thought it was a matter of life and death then they might pay more attention.”

Prof Wall said the coronavirus crisis could focus minds on the importance of a healthier diet and pointed out that the physical shape people are in could make the difference between being able to shake off the affects of the disease relatively easily and becoming serious ill.

At the event virtually attended by leading health experts from all over the world, Prof Wall also addressed specific challenges to effective prevention and control of Covid-19 in the food industry.

He said disease clusters in some food processing plants in Ireland were as a result of "overcrowded accommodation and congregated industrial settings that some workers in the food production industry in Ireland are enduring".

Prof Wall, a leading authority on infectious diseases and the one-time chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland pointed out that workers tend to live in close proximity to each other and, at work, often share large work-tops where Covid-19 laden droplets may be contaminating the environment, emphasising the importance of identifying and excluding symptomatic workers.

He said, “Elements of the food industry also present environments which are favourable to the spread of Covid-19 with metallic surfaces, low ambient temperatures and high relative humidity.’

Prof Wall called for better controls including the “implementation of more staggered shifts in the food industry, zoning in the factory and [having] workers operating in pods at work. There is no point having workers segregated in pods at work if they travel to work and live with workers in other pods.”

He said the food industry must address specific challenges to control the spread of Covid-19 including the maintenance of physical distancing on production lines and during breaks, adherence to the use of face coverings, continued attendance at work while symptomatic, adherence to heightened cleaning and disinfection, communication to overcome language and cultural problems, overcrowded accommodation of some workers and the sharing of transport to and from work.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast