By: Ximena Ramos Salas, PhD, Director of Research & Policy, Obesity Canada

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Obesity Canada has been advocating for the consideration of the needs of people living with obesity in COVID-19 pandemic responses. 

Recognizing that existing research on pandemics and obesity stigma indicates that health care systems may be ill-prepared to support the needs of people with obesity, we released a call to action to provide safe and respectful care for people with obesity during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As scientific evidence emerged, establishing a link between obesity and COVID-19 illness severity, we reached out to federal, provincial, and territorial governments to request the inclusion of obesity as a risk factor for COVID-19 illness. 

A recent meta-analysis of 75 studies indicates that individuals living with obesity are at increased risk for COVID-19 infection (46% higher), hospitalization (113% higher), ICU admission (74% higher), and mortality (48% higher).(1)  

We are pleased to see that the Public Health Agency of Canada has now included obesity as a risk for more severe COVID-19 disease or outcomes.  This is an important step for ensuring that people with obesity have access to health services they need.

Much more work is needed to ensure that Canada has a coordinated strategy to support Canadians living with obesity. 

This is why we have also prepared and submitted a submission for the Pre-Budget Consultations in Advance of the Upcoming Federal Budget in which we ask the federal government to convene a broad consultation of stakeholders and shift our approach to obesity as a chronic disease while developing a framework to guide federal, provincial and territorial governments in the development of a national obesity strategy. 

Since the launch of the Canadian Adult Obesity Clinical Practice Guidelines, we have also communicated with policy makers about the implications of COVID-19 on obesity care and asked governments to recognize and treat obesity as a chronic disease. We have also advocated for the implementation of the new guidelines and the operationalization of the new obesity definition which is focused on health impairments rather than BMI alone.

In collaboration with international obesity associations, we have also advocated to the World Health Organization to: 1) recognize obesity is a disease which increases risk for COVID-19 complications and mortality and to ensure that people with obesity have access to health services they need; and 2) ensure that national responses to COVID-19 integrate treatment and prevention policies for obesity. 

Since the mechanisms responsible for greater COVID‐19 severity in individuals with obesity remains unknown, Obesity Canada has also advocated with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for increased research funding in this area. 

If you are living with obesity, we urge you to follow the public health advice to reduce your risk of COVID-19 illness. You can also access Obesity Canada’s resources on obesity and COVID-19 on our website.

If you want to learn more about obesity or if you have a loved living with obesity, please consider participating in our upcoming public conference which will have Canada’s top scientists and healthcare professionals sharing the latest obesity science.

You can also join the growing community of obesity advocates who are creating change in Canada. 

  1. Popkin BM, Du S, Green WD, Beck MA, Algaith T, Herbst CH, et al. Individuals with obesity and COVID-19: A global perspective on the epidemiology and biological relationships. Obesity Reviews. 2020;21(11):e13128.