NHS diabetes chief warns of piling on 'life changing' lockdown pounds

NHS diabetes chief warns of the danger of piling on ‘life changing’ lockdown pounds as he fears many Britons have gained weight while stuck indoors

  • Professor Jonathan Valabhji has warned of negative health effects of lockdown
  • He warned that adults were burning fewer calories with fewer daily activities
  • But added that the pandemic was an opportunity to make changes in behavior 
  • Study found that people with diabetes are twice as likely to die from coronavirus
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Britons have probably piled on the pounds while stuck indoors, the country’s top obesity and diabetes doctor warned yesterday.

Jonathan Valabhji said adults were burning fewer calories because they were not travelling to work or carrying out other daily activities.

He said the pandemic should however serve as a ‘life-changing’ trigger for changes in behaviour – especially as studies have indicated that coronavirus is more deadly for the obese.

Professor Valabhji’s research showed this week that patients with Type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity, were twice as likely to die than otherwise healthy individuals. His study of 24,000 patients found that nearly a third of those who died had diabetes, and that being morbidly obese further increased the risk of death.

Pictured: NHS diabetes chief, Professor Jonathan Valabhji

Professor Valabhji, who is national clinical director for diabetes and obesity at NHS England and NHS Improvement, said: ‘A lot of people have spent a lot of time sitting indoors and there is a risk people have gained weight.

‘We won’t know that [for certain] until we see people start emerging from social distancing and we start putting people on scales.

‘For someone like myself, it’s a concern, it’s a worry for me.

‘You can see the risk that people might have gained weight sitting at home limited in what exercise they can do, not going about their daily activities and going to work. Am I worried that people have gained weight during this time? Yes, it’s not unreasonable to suppose that if people are stuck indoors they may have gained weight.’

Professor Valabhji, a consultant diabetes specialist at St Mary’s Hospital in central London, said coronavirus was an opportunity to start a healthier life.

‘One would hope that simple public health messages would land and land a little more strongly. If this is an ideal time to land a public health message – which I do believe it is – it would be eating healthily, eating a little less if you’re in the obese range and losing weight. Exercise is all part of that especially at a time when we’re no longer limited to one piece of exercise a day.’

The professor said that although adults could not change the other major risk factors for coronavirus – age and ethnicity – they could influence obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

‘The important thing about weight loss is that it has to be sustainable – incorporating habits that will last,’ he added.

‘Slowly and gradually incorporating habits that one can maintain is important. If people are in the obese range, then eating a little bit less, eating more healthily and exercising a bit more are intuitive ways to go forward.’

Earlier this month NHS figures showed that 26 per cent of men and 29 per cent of women are obese, which is defined as having a Body Mass Index of more than 30. Around 4.8million Britons have diabetes – the majority Type 2 – and rates have doubled in 20 years in line with rising obesity.

These levels are significantly higher than many other Western countries, prompting speculation that they may partly explain why the UK’s coronavirus death rates are the worst in Europe. Professor Valabhji said: ‘Diabetes is an independent risk factor for passing away with Covid… whether that is contributing to higher death rates in this country compared with others, I don’t think I can answer that and similarly with obesity.’

Other health experts are concerned that adults and children have been snacking more since the lockdown and ordering more takeaways. Caroline Cerny of the Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of 44 medical colleges, charities and campaign groups, said: ‘Several surveys have shown that we are all snacking more during lockdown and it’s likely that this will lead to weight gain.

‘This isn’t helped by food companies continuing to aggressively market their unhealthy foods to us to ensure they stay centre stage in our minds while we are a captive audience.’

Earlier this month the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, ordered health officials to trawl through the records of thousands of pandemic victims to determine whether obesity, ethnicity and gender raise the risk of death from coronavirus.

The review was commissioned after researchers at the University of Liverpool warned that obesity increased the risk of dying from the virus by 37 per cent. 


Diabetes puts people at a higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 because it makes the immune system weaker, scientists say.

The illness, which affects more than four million people in the UK, is caused by abnormal levels of sugar in the blood. For most people this takes the form of Type 2 diabetes, in which there is too much sugar in the blood.

This, researchers, say, thickens the blood and reduces its ability to carry substances around the body at speed.

Dr Hajira Dambha-Miller, a GP and specialist in diabetes, said a patient’s blood becomes ‘like treacle’ as a result of high sugar levels.

‘Physically, it’s harder for the immune system to get to the virus,’ she said. ‘The virus bugs do a lot of damage before the immune system even realises it’s there.’

Therefore, when someone is infected with the coronavirus, it may take longer for their body to respond and fight it off, and the response may be less effective when it does begin.

Their illness doesn’t make a diabetic person any more likely to catch the virus itself – that is indiscriminate – just less likely to be able to recover quickly.

Dr Dambha-Miller added: ‘When the body does kick in, it won’t work as it should do. The immune cells are damaged because they’ve been saturated in sugar for years and don’t work the way they should.’  

The American Diabetes Association says it’s not clear if COVID-19 will pose a difference in risk between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

But the risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 is likely to be lower if diabetes is well-managed no matter whether it is type 1 or type 2.

The Association explains that people who have diabetes often have other health problems, such as obesity, heart disease or high blood pressure, which in turn contribute more to their risk of dying with COVID-19.

The ADA said: ‘Having heart disease or other complications in addition to diabetes could worsen the chance of getting seriously ill from COVID-19, like other viral infections, because your body’s ability to fight off an infection is compromised.

‘Viral infections can also increase inflammation, or internal swelling, in people with diabetes. This is also caused by above-target blood sugars, and both could contribute to more severe complications.’ 

People of black African or Caribbean, or south Asian, backgrounds are more likely to develop diabetes and have also been found to be at more risk of dying if they catch the coronavirus.

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Cornish village with copper pit could be richest square mile on Earth

Tiny Cornish village could become richest square mile on Earth after huge copper find buried 330ft underground

  • Gwennap in Cornwall could be the richest square mile on Earth thanks to copper 
  • High-grade copper buried 330ft below ground recently discovered by miners
  • Experts have described the ‘mineral province’ as ‘truly unique’ to the UK 

A tiny parish in Cornwall could become the most valuable place on Earth thanks to the discovery of huge copper reserves, experts said today.

The village of Gwennap covers just a square mile but drilling tests have revealed it is home to fresh reserves of copper-tin mineralisation.

During the 18th and early 19th centuries the parish was called the ‘richest square mile in the Old World’. It had the richest copper reserves on Earth at the time.

Tests show that Gwennap could be set to reclaim that crown.   

The high-grade copper-tin mineralisation has been discovered by Strongbow Exploration between the historic United and Consolidated Mines near St Day (pictured, Gwennap pit)

The village of Gwennap covers just a square mile but drilling tests have revealed it is home to fresh reserves of copper-tin mineralisation (pictured, sign pointing to pit)

Copper is widely used in electronics and many vital components of modern tech are made of the mineral as it is an electricity conductor.

The high-grade copper-tin mineralisation has been discovered by Strongbow Exploration between the historic United and Consolidated Mines near St Day.

Richard Williams, chief executive of Strongbow Exploration, said: ‘Cornwall is truly unique in the UK – it’s what we call a mineral province.

‘Historically, miners would just exploit the minerals in front of their face and, when a mine stopped producing, it closed down and they moved on.

Richard Williams, chief executive of Strongbow Exploration

‘There had been some government tax incentives in the Sixties to carry out further exploration of the mining potential of the UK.

‘There are some 2,000 documented mines in Cornwall but with the advance in new technologies we believe most remain under exploited.

‘There is a huge potential to find some of the highest quantities of tin, copper and lithium and our exploration drilling holes have reaffirmed that belief.’ 

Mr Williams added: ‘Cornwall has a massive role to play in the growth of the UK’s tech sector. In terms of security of supply, its mineral wealth is important, especially if the Government has desires to build its own high-tech industry.

‘From renewable energy to robotics, all these industries require metals like copper, tin or lithium – and Cornwall has plenty of it.’

The high-grade copper drill tests were carried out by another mining company, Cornish Lithium, which is looking for lithium under Cornwall. 

The company believes the discovery of lithium, used in batteries and valuable to the telecoms businesses, could speak a new UK industrial revolution.   

The private exploration company, based at the Tremough Innovation Centre, Penryn, entered into an agreement with Strongbow in 2017. 

During the 18th and early 19th centuries the parish was called the ‘richest square mile in the Old World’. It had the richest copper reserved on Earth at the time

It has the right to explore some of Strongbow’s mineral rights in Cornwall for lithium in brine, while Strongbow retains the rights to any hard rock mineralisation.

The latest drill holes, between up to 330ft deep, showed copper mineralisation greater than 20 per cent, which further tests are expected to confirm.

Mr Williams said Cornwall’s potential was enormous because the new samples showed 7.5 per cent concentration – well above the 0.5 per cent average.   

‘While the work at South Crofty requires more capital our new drilling in the area around will hopefully show continuous mineralisation for tin and copper, both vertically and laterally,’ Mr Williams explained.

‘With further drilling tests, we are confident we can get finance for exploration.

‘This is a massively exciting opportunity and the people of Cornwall and local authorities have been really supportive.’

A spokesperson for Cornish Lithium said: ‘Cornish Lithium continues to enjoy a strong relationship with Strongbow Exploration and is excited about the opportunities that this discovery highlights for the mining industry in Cornwall.’ 

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