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More than 200M Americans are at risk of severe COVID-19 because they have this condition

Published Mar 10th, 2021 12:10PM EST
Coronavirus Risk Factors
Image: Baby2M/Adobe

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The World Obesity Federation (WOF) released a new study on obesity and COVID-19 a few days ago, showing a “dramatic correlation” between COVID-19 mortality and obesity. The death rate was 10 times higher in countries where more than 50% of the population is overweight, including the UK and US. In the US, 71.6% of the population is considered to be overweight, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. The WOF found “not a single example internationally” of a country with low levels of obesity and a high COVID-19 death rate.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new study of its own a few days ago that delivers similar conclusions. The authors analyzed the link between weight and COVID-19 severity, finding that overweight people also risk a potentially life-threatening version of COVID-19, not just people with obesity.

Obesity was always a risk factor for severe COVID-19, as the condition often comes with additional medical issues that can include diabetes and heart disease. The new CDC study looked at a large sample of US adults infected with COVID-19 and found that the higher the BMI, the higher the risk of severe COVID-19 is.

The authors analyzed data for 148,494 US adults diagnosed with COVID-19 between March and December in an emergency department or during inpatient visits. Of those, 28.3% were overweight, and 50.8% were obese. In total, 79.1% of people had a weight above what’s deemed to be healthy. The authors used BMI, which is short for body mass index, to determine the link between weight and illness severity. “Overweight and obesity were risk factors for invasive mechanical ventilation, and obesity was a risk factor for hospitalization and death, particularly among adults aged [younger than] 65 years,” the study explains. These findings were consistent with similar research.

“In contrast to previous studies that demonstrated little or no association between obesity and COVID-19 severity among older patients, the results in this report indicate that overweight and obesity are risk factors for invasive mechanical ventilation and that obesity or severe obesity are risk factors for hospitalization, ICU admission, and death among patients aged [over] 65 years,” the authors added. “Risks for hospitalization, ICU admission, and death were lowest among patients with BMIs of 24.2 kg/m2, 25.9 kg/m2, and 23.7 kg/m2, respectively, and then increased sharply with higher BMIs.”

The risk for mechanical ventilation increased over the full range of BMIs, the authors wrote, from 15kg/m2 to 60kg/m2. Impaired lung function associated with higher BMIs might explain the increased risk. BMI readings between 18.5kg/m2 and 24.9kg/m2 are considered normal. People with BMI readings over 30kg/m2 are considered obese. The CDC offers a simple BMI calculator that can deliver results immediately.

The researchers pointed out that one-half of the COVID-19 patients in the study had obesity, compared to just 43.1% in the total sample they used as a control. 42.4% of the US is obese. This indicates that people with obesity are more likely to be admitted to hospitals for COVID-19 treatment, as they experience more severe cases than people who are not obese.

“These findings highlight the clinical and public health implications of higher BMIs, including the need for intensive COVID-19 illness management as obesity severity increases, promotion of COVID-19 prevention strategies including continued vaccine prioritization and masking, and policies to ensure community access to nutrition and physical activities that promote and support a healthy BMI,” the researchers wrote.

In addition to COVID-19 measures aimed at preventing COVID-19 infections in people who are overweight and adapting COVID-19 therapy, the study also says that “continued strategies are needed to ensure community access to nutrition and physical activity opportunities that promote and support a healthy BMI.”

The full study is available at this link.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.