From the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, obesity has been identified as a significant risk for COVID-19 complications and deaths. The months that followed showed that even people who are overweight but not obese are at risk of developing severe illness, especially males. A study from the World Obesity Federation we covered a few weeks ago found that COVID-19 death rates were 10 times higher in countries where more than 50% of the population is overweight, including the UK and US. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) followed with a different study that showed a strong correlation between BMI and COVID-19 severity. The higher the BMI value, the more likely for people to experience COVID-19 complications that might be fatal.
BMI, short for body mass index, is an indicator devised to measure healthy weight and obesity. Not all people who have a high BMI are overweight or obese. Athletes might have higher BMI values, but most of that weight is muscle. An overweight or obese person would have a higher percentage of body fat. Regardless of what makes up that weight, all people with BMIs higher than 25 are eligible for a coronavirus vaccine right now — here’s how to find out if you qualify.
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The CDC offers a simple BMI calculator that can be used to determine one’s BMI. The calculator supports both the English and Metric systems. To calculate your BMI, you’ll have to measure your current weight and height. Then just enter them in the calculator, which will deliver an immediate result. The CDC also offers a calculator for children and teens.
Values between 18.5 and 24.9 are considered normal, while readings between 25 and 29.9 indicate that a person is overweight. A person is considered obese if his or her BMI surpasses 30. Readings over 40 indicate severe obesity. Similarly, a person with a BMI under 18.5 is considered underweight.
Athletes might have BMI readings that would place them in the overweight category, but they would be considered healthy. The same goes for any people whose body weight is made up of an above-average percentage of muscle. People who aren’t sure what their BMI reading means should check with a health professional regardless of vaccine eligibility concerns.
Obesity, meanwhile, is often associated with other medical conditions that can lead to COVID-19 complications and death. This includes diabetes and heart problems. Both are risk factors for COVID-19 regardless of whether or not a person is overweight.
Adults with BMIs over 25 are now eligible for vaccination even if they’re otherwise healthy and have no other medical conditions that would increase the risk of severe COVID-19. Georgia is one of the states where BMI is a qualifying factor for coronavirus vaccination, according to 11 Alive.
BMI and obesity might be sensitive topics for some people. GSU Public Health Master’s Candidate Beth Pollak told the site that overweight people should not feel pressured to disclose their BMIs. “You are under no obligation to tell anyone why you are eligible to be vaccinated. You might have a different pre-existing condition that you don’t want to disclose. So you don’t have to say it’s about your BMI, you just say, I’m in the eligible class,” she said.
As of March 15th, all adults over 55 and any person older than 16 who suffers from one of the following conditions is eligible for vaccines in Georgia:
- Asthma (moderate to severe)
- Chronic kidney disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Cystic fibroses
- Heart conditions
- Immunocompromised state
- Liver disease
- Neurological conditions, like dementia, Parkinson’s, ALS
- Overweight and obesity (BMI > 25kg)
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Sickle Cell Disease
Eligibility based on BMI will vary depending on location. ABC News explains that San Francisco will only allow people with BMI over 30 to get a vaccine right now. That means those who are overweight but not obese will not qualify.
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