Study: Obesity Increases Risk of COVID-19 Death by Nearly 50 Percent

Obesity increases the risk of coronavirus death by nearly 50 percent, according to a study released Wednesday by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Additionally, future vaccines may be less effective for the clinically overweight.

Researchers at UNC reviewed available data on individuals infected with COVID-19 and found that those with a body mass index over 30 were at a greater risk of hospitalization (113 percent), more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit (74 percent) and had a higher risk of death (48 percent).

“All of these factors can influence immune cell metabolism, which determines how bodies respond to pathogens, like the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus,” said co-author Melinda Beck, professor of nutrition at Gillings School of Global Public Health. “Individuals with obesity are also more likely to experience physical ailments that make fighting this disease harder, such as sleep apnea, which increases pulmonary hypertension, or a body mass index that increases difficulties in a hospital setting with intubation.”

Citing previous work by Beck and other researchers on the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine in adults with obesity, UNC also suggested that a COVID-19 vaccine could be undermined by an elevated BMI.

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

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