Obesity increases the risk of severe COVID-19, study finds

Obesity is a complex disease that involves an excessive amount of body fat. Being overweight or obese is a medical problem that increases the risk of other conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and some cancers.

Amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV-2), one of the risk factors that have been tied to developing severe symptoms, is obesity.

A new study by researchers at the Noakhali Science and Technology University, Bangladesh, reveals that being overweight and obese are common risk factors for developing severe COVID-19. However, they suggested further assessment of metabolic parameters, including body mass index (BMI), waist-hip ratio, and insulin levels, to estimate the risk.

Obesity and COVID-19

An increasing body of data suggests that people with diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, and severe obesity, with a BMI of more than 40, are more likely to develop severe illness and die from a SARS-CoV-2 infection.

In China, where the pandemic first emerged, data shows that patients with cardiovascular disease had the highest fatality – over diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and cancer.

Other countries, such as Italy, and the United States, also observed that obesity heightens the risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms. These countries noted that BMI should be a clinical risk factor of COVID-19.

Studies have also shown that adults with obesity under the age of 60 are more likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19. In other viral infections such as the influenza virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), people who are obese are more susceptible to infection.

The study

The study, published in the journal medRxiv*, revealed that obesity increases the risk of COVID-19 infection.

The researchers utilized two electronic databases, Cochrane Library and Medline, and one grey literature database, Grey Literature Report, to search for a keyword related to COVID-19 and obesity to arrive at the study findings. The keywords used in the study include overweight, obesity, body mass index, coronavirus, respiratory disease, and COVID-19.

After the initial screening, the team obtained 12 studies, with 405,359 respondents and patients.

The study findings revealed that the pooled risk of disease severity was 1.31 times higher based on both fixed and random effect models among overweight patients. Meanwhile, the risk of disease severity was 2.41 times higher based on random effect among obese patients and 2.09 times higher based on fixed effect.

Our study result is consistent with what has been found in previous reports. Different studies previously documented for different viral pathogens, including influenza, that obesity was a major risk factor for disease severity,” the researchers explained.

“During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, it was found that the rates of hospitalization and deaths were higher among overweight and obese patients,” they added.

The team concluded that being overweight and obese are common risk factors for severe COVID-19. However, they said that further assessment of metabolic parameters should be considered.

The ongoing pandmic

The coronavirus pandemic has infected over 68.46 million people across the globe. Of these, more than 1.56 million people have died. A majority of COVID-19-related deaths are those who are elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.

The other countries with high numbers of COVID-19 cases include India, with more than 9.73 million cases; Brazil, with more than 6.67 million cases; Russia, with more than 2.51 million cases; France, with over 2.36 million cases, and the United Kingdom, with 1.77 million cases.

With lockdown measures lifted, businesses and schools open, many countries are expected to report skyrocketing cases. The good thing is, vaccine companies have already rolled out the last phase of human trials for COVID-19 vaccines. A vaccine is already being administered in the United Kingdom. If all goes well, there may be doses for most countries available in 2021.

*Important Notice

medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.

Journal reference:
Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Written by

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She is currently completing her Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and worked as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.


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