April 20, 2020 - 12:19pm

Prof Jean-François Delfraissy warned that obese people were at seriously risk from the coronavirus

When lockdown began, and the medical authorities started to list the so-called “underlying conditions” that multiply the dangers of Covid-19, there was a terrible moment of panic when I realised I had quite a few of them: asthma, diabetes, obesity — horrible word, but technically, I was — and having previously had a quadruple heart bypass after a heart attack. Come to think of it, it was probably something of a miracle that I was still alive. But with the emergence of this horrible virus, I was galvanised into action.

In the weeks since lockdown I have cut out most of the major carbohydrate groups (except alcohol, obviously) dropped two stone and am no longer technically obese — just merely overweight. And my blood sugars have come right down and stabilized such that I have written to my doctor requesting that I come off all diabetes medication. And I feel great.

Stay at Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives. That’s all well and good. But do those of us who have “underlying conditions” that can be addressed through diet have some sort of moral responsibility to take themselves in hand? Indeed, if we are all about protecting the NHS at this time of national emergency, shouldn’t that also include making an extra effort not to become a casualty oneself. Or this just “fat shaming”?

One of the most difficult things about talking sensibly about body weight is that there are those for whom any mention of dieting requires a forest of trigger warnings. And some people are so tiresomely angry about any and every “micro-aggression” that they spot in even the most innocent of conversations. I am not making jokes about plus-sized people. Indeed, my former psychotherapist, Susie Orbach, wrote the famous “Fat is a Feminist Issue”, so I do have some awareness of the issues here.

But if there is a link between obesity and Covid mortality, as several studies have shown, then the obesity rates within a population will surely have an effect on their overall mortality rates. As a senior scientific advisor to the French government said last week: “That is why we’re worried about our friends in America, where the problem of obesity is well known and where they will probably have the most problems because of obesity.”

Going by my own experience, and with a study group of one, I find that cutting out fat does little to shift my weight. But cutting out sugar, and the carbs that turn to sugar, makes a massive difference. Over the last five weeks, all I have done is do without rice, bread, pasta and potatoes. That’s it. And I am currently losing a pound a day. My diabetes is in retreat. No longer obese. And I am heading towards a healthy body weight.

If I was a conspiracy-theorist I would wonder whether the big pharmaceutical companies would prefer to keep on selling us expensive drugs for diabetes rather than explain to us that a simple change in diet could often replace the need for them. But it couldn’t be that now, could it?

Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and Vicar of St Anne’s, Kew.