Food industry ‘shares blame’
AS EVIDENCE mounts that overweight and obese people are at much greater risk of developing life threatening Covid-19 consequences, public health experts have called on manufacturers to stop promoting the consumption of calorie laden food and drinks.
Writing in the BMJ, scientists at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, part of Queen Mary University of London in the United Kingdom, argue that Covid-19 is “yet one more health problem exacerbated by the obesity pandemic.”
In an editorial, they cite evidence that people who are overweight or obese are much more likely to develop severe infections of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
One study found that even after taking into account factors such as age, sex, ethnicity, and social deprivation, being overweight increased the relative risk of developing a life threatening infection by 44%. Being obese increased the relative risk by 97%.
“It is now clear that the food industry shares the blame not only for the obesity pandemic but also for the severity of COVID-19 disease and its devastating consequences,” write PhD researcher Monique Tan, and Professors Feng J He, and Graham A MacGregor in the editorial.
Worldwide, more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight or obese in 2016, and that number is increasing rapidly. Latest figures show that the prevalence of overweight and obesity among adults has reached 64 per cent in the U.K. and 72 per cent in the United States.
Health experts recognize obesity as a significant risk factor for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
In their editorial, the scientists write that several different mechanisms could account for the increased severity of COVID-19 among overweight and obese people.
For example, people with obesity have more angiotensin converting enzyme-2 (ACE-2), the membrane-bound enzyme that the virus uses to gain entry to cells.
Whether this fact is due to their fat cells producing more of the enzyme, or simply due to having more adipose, or fat storage, tissue, is not yet clear.
“The adipose tissue of people with obesity may, therefore, be a potential target and viral reservoir for SARS-CoV-2 before it spreads to other organs, as has proved to be the case for other viruses,” the scientists write.
The high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and diabetes that doctors associate with obesity are also suspects in making people with Covid-19 more susceptible to the infection.
In addition, it could increase the likelihood of the excessive innate immune response or “cytokine storm” that causes damage to the lungs and other organs of critically ill patients.
On top of this, obesity creates greater resistance in patients’ airways, making it more difficult to expand their lungs and, thus, reducing lung function.
Call for action
The Wolfson Institute scientists demand that there is now tougher action to combat obesity.
“Food industries around the world must immediately stop promoting, and governments must force reformulation of unhealthy foods and drinks,” they write.
They accuse some food manufacturers of “thinly veiled tactics, using the outbreak as a marketing opportunity.”
As an example, they cite Krispy Kreme’s Serving Smiles initiative in the U.K., which involved donating half a million doughnuts to “the amazing heroes working so hard in the battle against Covid-19,” including those working in hospitals.
The authors claim governments have not done enough to tackle obesity in their populations, with the exception of taxes on sugary drinks that some countries, such as the UK, have imposed.
The authors are particularly concerned that the Covid-19 pandemic has limited some people’s access to fresh foods due to increased food poverty, disruptions to supply chains, and panic buying.
This may have increased their consumption of highly processed foods and those with long shelf lives, which are often high in salt, sugar, and saturated fat.
“Reducing salt, sugar, and saturated fat across the board would improve the diet of the entire population and bring even greater benefits for people who are most socially deprived,” they conclude.
“The toll of morbidity and mortality from Covid-19 has made this more apparent and more urgent than ever.” – Medical News Today
Flushing can propel viral infection
FLUSHING the toilet with the lid up creates a cloud of spray that can be breathed in and may spread infection, such as coronavirus, say researchers.
Chinese scientists calculate that flushing can propel a plume of spray up and out of the toilet bowl, reaching head height and beyond.
Droplets can travel up to 3ft – or 91cm – from ground level, according to the computer model used by the scientists from Yangzhou University.
Shutting the lid would avoid this.
The work is published in the journal Physics of Fluids.
Coronavirus is spread through airborne droplets from coughs and sneezes, or objects that are contaminated with them.
People who are infected can also have traces of the virus in their faeces, although it is not yet clear whether this might be another way to pass the disease on to others.
Scientists around the world are testing sewage and wastewater to determine how some people might have become infected with coronavirus.
Other viruses can be spread by poor toilet hygiene, known as faecal-oral transmission.
As water pours into the toilet bowl during a flush, it strikes the side, creating turbulence and droplets. The droplets are so small they typically float in the air for more than a minute, according to study author Ji-Xiang Wang and colleagues from Yangzhou University, China.
Dr Bryan Bzdek, from the Bristol Aerosol Research Centre at the University of Bristol, said although there was no clear evidence that coronavirus might spread in this way, it made sense to take precautions.
“The study authors suggest that, whenever possible, we should keep the toilet seat down when we flush, clean the toilet seat and any other contact areas frequently, and wash our hands after using the toilet.
“While this study is unable to demonstrate that these measures will reduce transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, many other viruses are transmitted though the faecal-oral route, so these are good hygiene practices to have anyway.” –BBC
Social-contact curbs ‘put adolescents at risk’
REDUCED face-to-face contact among teenagers and their friends during the pandemic could have damaging long-term consequences, neuroscientists say.
At a sensitive time in life, their brain development, behaviour and mental health could suffer.
Using social media might make up for some negative effects of social distancing, they write in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.
But they call for schools to reopen for young people as a priority when safe.
Adolescence – defined by the scientists as between 10 and 24 – is a vulnerable stage, when young people want to spend more time with their friends than their family, as they prepare for adult life.
Combined with major hormonal and biological changes, it’s a key time for the development of the brain.
It’s also the period in life when mental-health problems are mostly likely to develop.
But the arrival of coronavirus has disrupted all that, says Prof Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, from the department of psychology at the University of Cambridge and lead author of the opinion piece.
“Owing to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, many young people around the world currently have substantially fewer opportunities to interact face-to-face with peers in their social network at a time in their lives when this is crucial for their development,” she says.
“Even if physical distancing measures are temporary, several months represents a large proportion of a young person’s life.
“We would urge policymakers to give urgent consideration to the well-being of young people at this time.”
The Viewpoint article, written with Amy Orben, research fellow at Cambridge, and Livia Tomova, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, calls for more research to be carried out to understand the effects of “social deprivation” on adolescents.
At present, research on animals is all they have to go on – and it suggests that non-human primates and rodents experience a rise in anxious behaviour and a decrease in brain functions related to learning and memory when social contact is taken away.
This is likely to be due to the lack of experiences for social learning, they say.
But with 69 per cent of younger adolescents in the UK, aged 12-15, having a social-media profile, social connection is still possible – via anything from Instagram to online gaming.
The question is how much and what kinds of digital communication help to lessen the effects of physical distancing, says Dr Orben.
“Some studies have shown that active social-media use, such as messaging or posting directly on another person’s profile, increases well-being and helps maintain personal relationships.
“However, it has been suggested that passive uses of social media, such as scrolling through newsfeeds, negatively influence wellbeing.”
Lockdown rules brought in to stop the spread of the virus have meant schools in the UK have been closed to most children since March 20.
A small number of primary school children have returned in England, but only in small groups. – BBC