Obese people who become infected with COVID-19 are nearly 50% more likely to die from it and any potential vaccine may not be as effective, researchers have said.
The newly published study used coronavirus data from around the world and is likely to ramp up the pressure for governments around the world to take urgent action to tackle obesity.
The US and UK have some of the highest obesity rates in the world. According to figures by the American government, more than 40% of US citizens are obese and in England, the condition impacts 27% of adults.
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The COVID-19 research, carried out by a team from the University of North Carolina (UNC), has found obesity impacts the severity of the killer virus in every way. Their figures suggested there was 113% higher risk of being hospitalised, a 74% chance of ending up in intensive care and the risk of death was 48%.
Lead author Professor Barry Popkin, from the department of nutrition at the UNC’s Gillings Global School of Public Health, said: “That’s a pretty big effect for me. It is a 50% increase essentially. That’s a pretty high scary number. All of it is actually, much higher than I ever expected.”
Speaking to the Guardian newspaper about the high percentages relating to death and hospital admission, he said the figures “shocked me, to be honest”.
The study’s co-author, Professor Melinda Beck, added: “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.
“We know a COVID vaccine will have a positive effect on obese people, but we suspect from all our knowledge from tests on the Sars vaccine and the flu vaccine it will have a diminished benefit compared to the others.”
The findings have been published in the Obesity Review journal.