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July 17, 2020

Even mild obesity linked to severe COVID-19, death

Top Story

July 17, 2020

LONDON: Being even mildly obese could put a person at risk of developing severe COVID-19 and dying, according to a study, foreign media reported. In a paper published in the European Journal of Endocrinology, researchers assessed data on 482 COVID-19 patients who were admitted to the Sant'Orsola Hospital in Bologna, a city in hard-hit northern Italy. The information was collected between March and April, during the peak of the outbreak in the area.

Just over a fifth of the patients had a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or over, meaning they were obese. BMI is calculated by dividing one's weight by the square of their height. A person is deemed severely obese if they have a BMI of 40 or over.

In the study, 20 patients had a BMI of 35 or over. When the team carried out their analysis, 68 patients were still in hospital, so information on how they progressed was not included in the study.

A BMI of between 30 to 34.9 was linked to an increased risk of respiratory failure, and ICU admission. A BMI of 35 "dramatically increases the risk of death," the authors wrote.

Of the patients with obesity, 52 percent had respiratory failure, 36 percent were admitted to the ICU, a quarter needed a ventilator to breathe, and 30 percent died within 30 days of their symptoms first appearing.

Study co-author and bariatric surgeon Dr Matteo Rottoli, of Alma Mater Studiorum University of Bologna, told Newsweek he knew obesity increased a person's risk of developing other diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer

During the COVID-19 pandemic he and his team noticed some patients who were particularly unwell were young and obese, and so decided to explore whether their weight or other variables like age, gender and underlying conditions, were risk factors.

"Our study showed that even a mild obesity brings a very high risk," he said.

The main limitation of the study was that most of the patients were caucasian, and those of other ethnicities might have a higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 in the presence of obesity, said Rottoli.

The study partially explains why outcomes vary so much for those who catch the coronavirus, with some having no symptoms and others dying, according to Rottoli. "The metabolic status of the patients has a primary role in the onset and developing of COVID-19, and obesity is the condition that affects the metabolism the most."

Future studies should look at how obesity affects the immune response of those infected with the coronavirus, with the aim of lowering the risk, he said.