Obesity is associated with “higher odds” of admission to hospital from severe Covid-19, a study using data from more than 300,000 people in England has suggested.
Scientists sought to build on previous smaller-scale studies which examined the potential link between being overweight and progressing to intensive care due to coronavirus infection.
Researchers from University College London and the universities of Southampton and Edinburgh drew on data from the UK Biobank study, collected between 2006 and 2010, covering 334,329 people with an average age of 56.
They used people’s body mass index (BMI) and waist-hip ratio as measures of their levels of obesity and analysed it in relation to cases of coronavirus hospital admissions recorded by Public Health England from March 16 up to April 26.
Since over two-thirds of Westernised society are overweight or obese, this potentially presents a major risk factor for severe Covid-19 infection and may have implications for policyStudy authors
Around 0.2%, or 640 people, from the large population sample ended up in hospital after contracting the virus.
Through their adjusted models, researchers found “there was a linear increase in the risk of Covid-19 with increasing BMI, that became evident from modestly elevated weight… to stage II obesity compared to normal weight”.
They warned: “Since over two-thirds of Westernised society are overweight or obese, this potentially presents a major risk factor for severe Covid-19 infection and may have implications for policy.”
Last month Prime Minister Boris Johnson launched a new strategy to tackle obesity while acknowledging that he was “way overweight” when he was admitted to intensive care in April as he battled Covid-19 and was put on oxygen.
In further analyses, the scientists found that “impaired glucose and lipid metabolism” – how the body use types of sugar and fat – may contribute to the link between obesity and severe Covid-19.
In their study, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America journal, they added: “We captured Covid-19 cases of sufficient severity to warrant in-patient care, although we did not undertake cohort-wide testing; thus, true prevalence remains unknown.
“By virtue of the fact that obese participants are likely to present with more risk factors, these patients may have been prioritised for testing.”
Overall, they concluded: “We found associations between obesity and higher odds of Covid-19 with severe symptoms requiring hospitalisation in a large community-dwelling cohort that are consistent with the few prognostic studies of smaller clinical samples.”
The study follows a report published by Public Health England last month which found that being overweight or obese can dramatically increase the risk of hospitalisation and death from coronavirus.