Nutrition’s Role in the Fight Against Obesity
01 Apr 2021
COVID-19 shines a spotlight on the world's obesity crisis
The onset of COVID-19 has upended our lives drastically, with the world turning its focus to the health, social and economic consequences of the never-before-seen global pandemic. Inevitably, it has pushed efforts to tackle other pressing health concerns such as obesity into the background as resources shift to focus on curbing the global pandemic and saving lives.
However, with COVID-19 thrown into the mix, the fight against obesity has become even more urgent. Recent studies indicating that obesity could potentially worsen the effects of COVID-19 among patients have brought the prevalence of obesity back into the spotlight.
Obesity is apparent in over a third of adults globally², with factors such as urbanisation, shifting consumption habits, and increasingly sedentary lifestyles contributing to the rapidly growing trend.
According to the World Health Organization, people with pre-existing non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular conditions and diabetes– many of which are linked to obesity – are more vulnerable to become severely ill with the coronavirus2.
Physical and mental health on weight management
Lockdown measures implemented to curb the spread of the virus have aggravated this situation as people are no longer able to engage in their normal exercises and physical activities, increasing their susceptibility.
In addition, the reciprocal relationship between physical and mental health has also strained significantly since the onset of COVID-19. Lockdowns not only reduce one’s ability to exercise, but the imposed isolation and physical distancing also result in increased feelings of loneliness.
Feelings of loneliness can create a cycle of stress and anxiety, and worsen tendencies to overeat³ ⁴.
Responsible nutrition key to curbing obesity
It is clear that more can be done in the fight against obesity. All stakeholders have a role to play in this fight. Consumers, for instance, are encourage to actively read nutritional labels to properly educate themselves and monitor their food intake in line with recommended serving sizes.
Food companies also have a significant influence on the value chain and therefore, have a moral responsibility to produce nutritious and health-promoting options for consumption.
As a dairy company working with a product that offers opportunities to create high performing food ingredients, Fonterra recognises its role in enabling responsible nutrition choices through the work with food companies globally. To achieve this, the company has a team of dieticians and nutritionists dedicated to supporting customers in developing healthier options tailored to evolving needs.
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As the world navigates through COVID-19, discussions around the need to address the growing prevalence of obesity need to continue gaining ground. This will enable a conducive environment for Fonterra and our customers to come together to act and drive collaborations to create a future characterised by healthy eating habits and active lifestyles.
This article has been adapted from an interview with Simon Gilmour published on Food & Beverage Asia in February 2021.
Research Scientist | Nutrition
Simon Gilmour is a Nutritionist and Research Scientist at the Fonterra Research and Development Centre with four years’ experience working in the Nutrition team and eight years in the dairy industry. His position involves designing and managing nutritional intervention trials investigating the potential health benefits of dairy products and ingredients as well as consulting on nutritional matters in new product design, accurate marketing, and advocacy work.
-  Economist Intelligence Unit (2017). Tackling obesity in ASEAN. Retrieved December 2, 2020 from https://foodindustry.asia/documentdownload.axd?documentresourceid=30157
-  Information note on COVID-19 and NCDs. (2020, March 23). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/covid-19-and-ncds.
-  Zhang, Y. et al. (2020). Mental health problems during COVID-19 Pandemics and the mitigation effects of exercise: A longitudinal study of college students in China. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
-  Clemmensen, C., Petersen, M. B., & Sørensen, T. I. A. (2020). Will the COVID-19 pandemic worsen the obesity epidemic? Nature Reviews Endocrinology.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the opinion of the author, not those of Fonterra, and Fonterra is not responsible for any decisions taken in reliance on the same.