Overweight or obese people are more likely to be severely unwell should they become infected with COVID-19, researchers have said.

Teams from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) and the University of Queensland say the chances of needing invasive respiratory support are much higher among those who have a weight problem.

MCRI researcher Dr Danielle Longmore said: “Although taking steps to address obesity in the short-term is unlikely to have an immediate impact in the COVID-19 pandemic, it will likely reduce the disease burden in future viral pandemics and reduce risks of complications like heart disease and stroke.”

The trial involved looking at people who had been admitted to 18 hospital with COVID-19 across 11 countries including China, America, Italy, South Africa and The Netherlands.

In total they gathered data from 7,244 people, of which 34.8% were overweight and 30.8% were obese.

There was a 73% greater chance of needing invasive ventilation among the obese people, although no link was found between weight and COVID-19 death.

The University of Queensland’s Dr Kirsty Short, who co-led the research, said: “Obesity is associated with numerous poor health outcomes, including increased risk of cardiometabolic and respiratory disease and more severe viral disease including influenza, dengue and SARS-CoV-1.

“Given the large scale of this study we have conclusively shown that being overweight or obese are independent risk factors for worse outcomes in adults hospitalised with COVID-19.”

MCRI Professor David Burgner, who co-led the research, added: “At the moment, the World Health Organization has not had enough high-quality data to include being overweight or obese as a risk factor for severe COVID-19 disease. Our study should help inform decisions about which higher-risk groups should be vaccinated as a priority.”

The findings have been published in the Diabetes Care journal.

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