IT is a pity it took a deadly pandemic to galvanise attitudes towards tackling obesity and encouraging cycling.

This week Boris Johnson - having been spurred to shed some excess weight after his own near-death scare with the virus - has announced plans for cycling on prescription, a pre-watershed ban on junk food adverts on television and online, mandatory calorie information on menus, and an end to retailers promoting confectionary at the checkout or selling calorie-packed food and drink on 'buy-one-get-one-free' deals.

On these latter points, the Prime Minister is essentially aping policies already drawn up and backed by the Scottish Government (advertising restrictions are a reserved issue, but something ministers here had called for).

However, Restricting Food Promotions Bill which would have seen these anti-obesity measures rolled out in Scotland - the first country in the world to seek to enact such curbs - has been paused, ironically, in light of Covid and its "significant impact" on retailers and hospitality.

There are now no plans to put it to MSPs before the current parliament ends in May 2021, with Public Health Minister Joe Fitzpatrick saying the delay would give ministers time to "consider fully whether a more wide-ranging Bill is required".

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So why might Covid be a turning point in the battle against obesity?

A paper published in the scientific journal, Circulation, this month noted that in a French study Covid patients admitted to intensive care were seven times more likely to require mechanical ventilation if their body mass index (BMI) exceeded 35 - the midpoint for the obese range - compared to patients whose BMI was below 25 (the upper threshold for normal weight).

Similarly, a New York study found that Covid patients under 60 years of age whose BMI was between 30 and 34 or over 34 were respectively 1.8 and 3.6 times more likely to be become critically ill compared to individuals whose BMI was less than 30.

Professor Naveed Sattar, the lead author and an expert in metabolic medicine at Glasgow University, suggested that excess fat may play a role in the catastrophic immune response characteristic of Covid patients who progress to critical illness and organ failure.

However, he added that it is still unclear "whether obesity is an independent risk factor for susceptibility".

In other words, is obesity itself the problem or the other things that obesity causes, which are themselves associated with higher rates of complications and death in people who contract the virus: cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and even cancers.

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There is no published breakdown for the BMI of Covid patients who have died or been admitted to intensive care in Scotland, but 28 per cent of those admitted up to June 20 had at least one co-morbidity of which Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease were among the most common.

Unsurprisingly, the figures also show that 24% of ICU admissions were from patients living in the most deprived parts of Scotland.

This group - the poorest fifth of the population - also recorded a 49% mortality rate from Covid compared to 35% for the most affluent patients.

Were we to succeed in reversing the obesity crisis (setting aside for a moment the bleak evidence that 97% of dieters regain everything they lost and then some within three years), we would also deliver a significant reduction in rates of obesity-related diseases that claim far more lives every year than Covid ever will.

Coronary heart disease alone - which includes heart attacks - claimed 6,727 lives in Scotland in 2017, with a further 3,935 deaths from cardiovascular disease, such as strokes.

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Obesity-related cancers such as liver and kidney cancer increased by 24% and 41% respectively between 2008 and 2017, with diagnoses of bowel cancer in the under-50s also climbing 36% from 2002 to 2017.

Exactly how many deaths obesity causes is very difficult to unpick, however, when so many cases will overlap with other risk factors such as smoking, lack of exercise, and alcohol consumption.

But it is also worth noting that the single most effective way of reducing obesity rates would be to reduce inequality in our society.

And yet the fallout from the pandemic - job losses, recession, interrupted schooling, potential cuts to benefits and increased taxes as Westminster seeks to recoup the costs of furlough - will only exacerbate the gap between rich and poor and the unhealthy lifestyles that go hand-in-hand with poverty.

As mentioned, significant weight loss is hard to sustain anyway; it's just not how evolution built us.

Preventing children from ever becoming obese would be better. But it has already been declining among five-year-olds from better-off households while rising for the poorest, so the gulf is now wider than ever.

If deprivation increases after Covid, it will take more than a checkout sweetie ban to curb obesity.