ECOICO 2020 Opening

Sorting Out Two Pandemics at ECOICO 2020

The opening of ECOICO 2020 today brought us a sharp focus on two pandemics – obesity and COVID-19 – unfolding around the world. But these two pandemics are moving on very different timelines. The global pandemic of obesity has developed very gradually. First, and most notably, it took root in the U.S. Now after four decades, it has become a truly global pandemic. However, we all know too well that COVID-19 was just the opposite. Early this year, it swept across the world with amazing speed.

In the ECOICO opening, both the intersection of these pandemics and their stark differences were unmistakable.

Tracing Obesity in Youth Around the World

Andrea Rodiguez-Martinez presented data from the NCD Risk Factor Collaboration (NCD-RisC) in the first plenary. In great detail, she described global trends for BMI of youth. No more is obesity a problem confined to wealthy populations. As it moves into Africa, it creates special challenges. Obesity and food insecurity are interacting even more than they do in the U.S.

She analyzed height and BMI changes of youth around the world over the last 35 years. No surprise, the U.S. had some of the most unhealthy changes, But she also found trouble spots in sub-Saharan Africa and New Zealand:

In some places, youth gained too little height or too much weight for height. The case in sub-Saharan countries was that children gained too little height. However, the case for the U.S. and New Zealand was too much weight for height.

It’s noteworthy that the news was not all bad. Rodrigues-Martinez noted that South Korea, Denmark, and Portugal had seen healthy changes in height and BMI over this time frame.

Obesity in a World Beset by COVID

It’s no secret. The country that led the world in obesity now finds itself leading the world in COVID-19. We have only four percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the cases. And thus, the U.S. is especially vulnerable because obesity adds to the risk of bad outcomes – especially in younger patients.

So the following session laid out the intersection of COVID-19 and obesity. The slowly unfolding pandemic of obesity has set the stage for worse outcomes from COVID-19. That second pandemic came in a flash, and thus, we are still figuring it out.

Johanna Ralston and Dror Dicker provided a compelling overview of the global challenges these two pandemics present for the health of all humanity. François Pattou and Jean Claude Mbanya brought us more detail.

The challenge is clear. COVID-19 commands our attention in the here and now. But it is the sneakier pandemic of obesity that makes us more vulnerable. Can we meet the challenge and turn back both of these pandemics?

Click here for more on ECOICO 2020 and here for a policy brief from World Obesity on these two pandemics. Note that if you register for the meeting, you can view every presentation, even those you don’t catch live.

Data from the NCD-RisC, Presented by Andrea Rodiguez-Martinez for the ECOICO 2020 Opening Plenary

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September 1, 2020