As days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months, we are all struggling to come to terms with the impact of the coronavirus across the planet. We are bombarded with numbers and all of us try to work out how well a country is dealing with the virus using death figures as a means of comparison.
The experts keep telling us we cannot use the number of deaths as a comparative measure due to the many unique factors that are in place in any given country or region. As more information becomes available those with an underlying health issue are more likely to die and one that is front and centre today in the UK is obesity.
Research suggests being overweight puts people at higher risk of complications from the virus and once again we are reminded of the toll obesity is taking on the health of the nation. Nearly two-thirds of adults are classed as overweight, with more than a quarter deemed obese according to data from NHS Digital. Rates have risen since the early 1990s, at first rapidly and thankfully more slowly over the past 10 years, suggesting some of the measures taken have started to alter our behaviour.
As well as putting people at risk of complications from coronavirus, being obese is also linked to a higher risk of other conditions ranging from heart disease to diabetes and cancer. The high rates of obesity take such a toll on our health that 876,000 UK hospital admissions were linked to weight problems in 2018-19.
There is a clear link with deprivation and those in the most deprived areas are two-and-a-half times more likely to be admitted to hospital with obesity listed as a factor. This is not just an issue for adults and the National Child Measurement Programme, which tracks obesity rates in schools across the country, shows that one in 10 children in reception year are obese, rising to one in five by the end of primary school.
Enough about the UK! What about Bahrain? As part of the GCC, Bahrain has the unenviable claim to being one of the six countries with some of the highest obesity rates in the world. Kuwait is the most obese country in the Middle East with an obesity rate of 37.9 per cent. In Bahrain, according to the Borgen Project, 3pc of women have a normal body mass index (BMI) of 25 or less, and 65.8pc are overweight with a BMI over 25 and less than 30. The remaining 36.8pc are classed as obese with a BMI greater than 30. Men are slightly less obese with just under 30pc classed as obese.
The big worry is the time bomb we are sitting on when it comes to childhood obesity. Almost 36pc of five to 19-year-old children are obese. Again, as in adulthood it is the girls who have higher rates of obesity compared to boys.
In the old days it was diseases like tuberculosis that were the killers but today it is cardiovascular disease that is the largest cause of death accounting for one third of total deaths.
Time for a change in our behaviours.
Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at [email protected]