People who are obese or overweight are at increased risk of death or severe illness from COVID-19, a report by Public Health England (PHE) said on Saturday as the government prepares to introduce measures to confront the problem.
Prime minister Boris Johnson has pledged to tackle obesity and has himself lost weight since he was admitted to intensive care with COVID-19.
PHE said data showed that for people with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30-35, risk of death from COVID-19 increased by 40 per cent, and it increased by 90 per cent for those with a BMI over 40 compared to those of a healthy weight.
People with a BMI of over 30 are classed as obese under the system. PHE said that almost 63 per cent of adults in England are overweight or obese.
"The current evidence is clear that being overweight or obese puts you at greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19, as well as from many other life-threatening diseases," said Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE.
On Friday, Johnson said people should lose weight, with reports that government restrictions on advertising unhealthy foods could come next week.
"I'm not normally a believer in nannying, bossing politics but the reality is that obesity is one of the comorbidity factors," Johnson said.
Susan Jebb, professor of diet and population health at the University of Oxford, said she would be pleased to see Johnson acknowledge the extent of the public health crisis Britain faces when it comes to tackling obesity.
"That's been brought to the fore by COVID, but actually it's something that we've kind of known all along, but it's just never got to the top of government's to-do list," Jebb, who reviewed the PHE report, told reporters.