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Fewer COVID-19 deaths, if the UK were thinner? 

 August 18, 2020

By  Christopher Bird

If the UK were not a nation of fatty’s could we estimate how many fewer COVID-19 deaths, there would have been?

Reframing the question. If we had of been as trim as the thinnest nation in Europe or just tipping the scales of the European average would the UK have had as many COVID-19 deaths? 

Stuart MacDonald is an actuary at the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries has researched these questions. He concluded 20% of the UK population is clinically obese. So that is one person out of five.

That is significantly higher than EU overall.

The EU overall has an obesity rate or 16%. Almost doubled the obesity rate in Italy. One person in nine is obese in Italy. Italy has one of the lowest obesity rates in Europe around 11%

The UK is at the other end of the scale alongside Turkey, Malta, Latveria and Hungry. 

To calculate the impact obesity makes on coronavirus. Stuart looked at huge study which looked at more than 17,000,000 UK patients. He tried to figure out how different factors affected their risk of dying from the disease. 

Within that study obesity is divided into 3 classes.

Class one is those with BMI of 30 to 35. That is the majority of people with obesity and the risk to them is 5% higher than for people of a healthy weight. 

Class two is a BMI of 35 to 40 the risk for those people is 40% higher

Class three has a BMI over 40 and the risk to them is 92% higher than for people with a healthy mix. 

If you were severely obese then you have a very substantially elevated risk.

However, most people who were in that lower category of risk

They can be elevated but their risks are probably not as dramatic as one might think.

Once we proportion for each group of individuals in each group. We can determine that obesity alone increases risk by 24% compared to someone who is not obese. Who shares the same demographic and medical characteristics.

Of course, not everyone in the UK is obese. So, based on the proportion of people who are. That gives a hazard ratio for the UK overall of hundred five percent. So, that equates the risk of death to be five percent higher than if no one in the UK is obese. 

An equivalent number for Europe overall is four percent and for Italy three percent. So, you might be thinking when you plug all that into the death toll.

What are we were talking about? Tens of thousands of people? 

How much difference would it have made if the UK had obesity rates that were closer to Italy’s or even just the EU average.

There have been 62,100 excess deaths in the UK up to the 24th July. That suggests that if we had the same obesity profile as the European average. We may have had around 600 fewer deaths. So, about 1% less.

If you had the same obesity profile as Italy. The UK may have had around 1300 fewer deaths around 2% less

If the UK were substantially slimmer than EU citizens. With much lower obesity rates and we can trust this data. 

Would this have saved hundreds of lives? 

Would it really have changed the overall shape of the epidemic? Or the overall conclusion that the UK has unfortunately, been very hard hit? 

You might be thinking if other factors could be playing a role. For example diabetes which is often connected with obesity? 

Stuart MacDonald has stated. While the UK has more obesity than most places in mainland Europe diabetes is less prevalent in the UK. So, no. Of course, it could be the UK has an equivalent number of undiagnosed diabetics. As always you answer one question and more questions arise.


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Christopher Bird


Building your own Power App, BI solution, or automated workflow can be a mind-blowing experience. It can also be a nightmare. Particularly when you begin with a blank screen. My advice, get professional help as and when you need it. That's what successful people do.

Christopher Bird

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