Research links obesity with higher risk of COVID-19 complications

RESEARCH has confirmed that obese patients with COVID-19 are at increased risk of admission to intensive care units and death from the virus.

A new study led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and based on published literature found that COVID-19 patients with obesity (BMI over 30) were 113 per cent more likely to be hospitalised and 74 per cent more likely to be admitted to ICUs, with a higher risk of death (48 per cent).

The researchers report that metabolic changes caused by obesity — such as insulin resistance and inflammation – make it difficult for individuals with obesity to fight some infections, a trend that can be seen in other infectious diseases, such as influenza and hepatitis. During times of infection, uncontrolled serum glucose, which is common in individuals with hyperglycemia, can impair immune cell function.

Melinda Beck, professor of nutrition at Gillings School of Global Public Health, said: “All of these factors can influence immune cell metabolism, which determines how bodies respond to pathogens, like the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

“Individuals with obesity are also more likely to experience physical ailments that make fighting this disease harder, such as sleep apnoea, which increases pulmonary hypertension, or a body mass index that increases difficulties in a hospital setting with intubation.”

Beck says that previous research has demonstrated that the influenza vaccine is less effective in adults with obesity. The same may be true for a future SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.

“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. Even a less protective vaccine will still offer some level of immunity.”