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1 May, 2021 13:55

Obesity increases risk of severe Covid-19, particularly in young people, study finds

Obesity increases risk of severe Covid-19, particularly in young people, study finds

People who are overweight are more likely to suffer from serious cases of coronavirus, with the associated risk especially prevalent among those younger than 40, according to a new study.

Researchers from Oxford University used data from a database of nearly seven million English patients aged 20 years and older to examine whether there was a correlation between body mass index (BMI) and severe cases of the virus. 

They found that the likelihood of Covid-19 leading to hospitalization, intensive care unit (ICU) admission and death increased with weight. However, the risk was far greater for overweight patients between the ages of 20 and 39. On the other hand, high BMI did not appear to affect whether those aged 80 to 100 suffered from serious cases of the virus. 

People with a BMI above 23 – the upper limit of the health range – are at risk of a more serious infection, while each one-point increase in BMI raises the chances of hospitalization by 5% and of ICU admission by 10%, the study concluded. 

The findings were published on Thursday in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal, and represent one of the largest studies to date on how body weight affects Covid outcomes. 

The study’s lead author, Carmen Piernas, said that it’s possible that body fat may potentially cause a higher viral load for younger patients, but that more research was needed into the matter. Severe cases among the elderly are likely linked to weakened immune systems or pre-existing conditions, making weight a less noticeable factor. 

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Piernas and her colleagues noted that their observations could be used to guide public health initiatives aimed at curtailing serious cases of the disease.

“Excess weight is a modifiable risk factor, and investment in the treatment of overweight and obesity and long-term preventive strategies could help reduce the severity of Covid-19 disease,” they wrote. 

Paul Aveyard, a co-author of the study, said that it was “highly plausible” that weight loss reduces the risk of serious coronavirus infection. 

The research adds to a growing list of scientific literature pointing to a correlation between weight and likelihood of severe Covid-19. A study published last year in Nature found that obesity significantly increased the risk of coronavirus-linked death. People with a BMI over 40 were at 92% higher risk of dying from the virus compared with people with a healthy BMI between 18.5-25. 

The new findings coincide with a study that detected an “unusually high” percentage of young people among patients who were hospitalized with a stroke after having Covid-19, including in asymptomatic form.

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