Obesity increases the risk of contracting the coronavirus, of landing in the hospital and intensive care unit, and the risk of death from Covid-19, according to a new study from researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The researchers say there’s also concern a vaccine could be less effective for people with obesity due to a weakened immune response.
Scientists at UNC reviewed data from 75 studies conducted between January and June involving 400,000 coronavirus patients.
They found obese people had a 46% greater risk of catching Covid-19 than non-obese people, and a 113% increased risk of hospitalization.
Plus their chances of ending up in the intensive care unit were 74% greater than those who were not obese. They also had a 48% greater risk of dying from the virus, the team reported Wednesday in the journal Obesity Reviews.
Obesity was already a known risk factor for more severe cases of Covid-19 because the underlying health conditions associated with the condition, including heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
For example, “the prevalence of individuals with obesity in hospitalized patients was much higher than that in nonhospitalized patients,” the researchers wrote. They cited a report on 5,700 obese patients in New York City, which showed 42% of hospitalized Covid-19 patients were obese compared to only 22% of the city’s population.
“Individuals with obesity are also more likely to experience physical ailments that make fighting this disease harder, such as sleep apnea, which increases pulmonary hypertension, or a body mass index that increases difficulties in a hospital setting with intubation,” Melinda Beck, a professor at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health who worked on the study, said in a statement.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 42% of the US adult population was considered obese in 2017-2018.
As research continues on a potential coronavirus vaccine, Beck pointed to previous research finding a link between adult obesity and a less effective flu vaccine. She suggested the same could be true for Covid-19.
“However, we are not saying that the vaccine will be ineffective in populations with obesity, but rather that obesity should be considered as a modifying factor to be considered for vaccine testing,” she said. “Even a less protective vaccine will still offer some level of immunity.”
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Growing evidence shows that obesity increases the risks of hospitalization, severity of illness and sometimes death with any viral respiratory infections, the researchers wrote, “increasing the likelihood that obesity may also independently increase the risk for COVID-19.”