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Mild obesity linked to greater risk of severe COVID-19 infection

Individuals who are obese have an increased likelihood of developing severe COVID-19 infection, and this link has been observed in patients with only mild obesity, according to a new study from the European Society of Endocrinology.

The research shows that BMI over 30 is associated with a significantly higher risk of respiratory failure, admission to intensive care, and death among COVID-19 patients. 

The correlation between mild obesity and life-threatening COVID-19 infection was found regardless of age, gender, and other pre-existing health conditions.

Obesity is a global epidemic that is linked to a number of chronic illnesses including diabetes and heart disease. Since the start of the pandemic, several studies have identified obesity as a risk factor for the development of potentially fatal COVID-19 infection.

In the United States and the UK, the current guidelines for identifying individuals with a higher risk of severe COVID-19 are set at a BMI of 40 and above. The new study suggests that the risk is elevated with much lower BMI scores.

A team of researchers led by Dr. Matteo Rottoli from the Alma Mater Studiorum University of Bologna analyzed the outcomes of almost 500 patients hospitalized with COVID-19. 

The study confirmed that obesity is a risk factor for severe infection, but also revealed that any BMI higher than 30 was associated with adverse outcomes.

“Our study showed that any grade of obesity is associated with severe COVID-19 illness and suggests that people with mild obesity should also be identified as a population at risk,” said Dr. Rottoli.

While the link between higher BMI and severe COVID-19 illness is strong, the underlying cause is not yet clear. Some of the potential mechanisms include: an impaired immune response to viral infections, alterations of lung function, and obesity-related chronic inflammatory states.

“Our hypothesis is that Sars-CoV-2 infection outcomes depend on the metabolic profile of patients and that obesity, interlaced with diabetes and metabolic syndrome are involved too,” said Dr. Rottoli.

“The BMI cut-off should be reassessed to ensure we identify everyone at higher risk of serious infection and to avoid underestimating the potential population impact of SARS-CoV-2 infection, particularly in Western countries with higher obesity rates.”

The study is published in the European Journal of Endocrinology.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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