Obesity and coronavirus: is obesity a risk factor for Covid-19?

OVER 1.5 million Brits are classed as high risk from coronavirus due to age and underlying health conditions according to the NHS.

Those of us that are obese or seriously overweight fall into the group of vulnerable people, but how much of a risk does obesity present? Here’s everything we know.

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In the past, studies have shown overweight and obese people are at greater risk of serious complications or death from infections, like flu.
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What’s my risk of catching coronavirus if I am obese?

Obesity has been found to be one of the biggest risk factors leading to hospitalisation for those with coronavirus.

Most adults with a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30 are considered obese, according to the NHS, but waist size is usually a better and easier thing to measure when it comes to excess fat.

Being overweight or obese can weaken the body’s immune system which could make people more likely to catch coronavirus and makes it harder for the body to fight the bug.

Analysis of 15,100 hospitalised coronavirus patients from 177 UK hospitals showed that excess fat around the internal organs adds to the ‘cytokine storm’ caused by covid-19, where the body releases too many proteins in an effort to fight off the virus.

The NHS has previously said people with a BMI of 40 or above have a greater risk of developing complications if they catch the virus.

More than 60 per cent of patients in intensive care with the virus were overweight or classed as morbidly obese, a recent NHS survey found.

Those who were overweight, with a BMI of 25 to 40, made up 64 per cent of the first 194 coronavirus patients who were in ICU at the time, while seven per cent were classed as obese with a BMI over 40.

BMI is a measure of whether you’re a healthy weight for your height, you can calculate yours on the NHS website.


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In the past, studies have shown overweight and obese people are at greater risk of serious complications or death from infections, like flu.

The extra weight on obese people’s diaphragms puts pressure on lungs and makes it harder to breathe, starving them of oxygen.

Clogged up arteries can also make it harder for blood carrying immune cells to circulate and travel to fight infection around the body.

Obese people with coronavirus who need to go to ICU are also more difficult for medical staff to manage because of their size, according to the World Obesity Federation.

It is harder for staff to fit ventilators, perform scans, and move obese patients.

“In general health systems are already not well set up to manage patients with obesity and the current crisis will expose their limitations even more,” the website said.

Experts believe that in the US the mortality rate will be pushed to levels similar to the 1918 Spanish Flu because of their obesity epidemic.

The CDC reports that 42.4 per cent of US adults and 18.5 per cent of children fall into that category.

Is obesity considered to be an underlying health condition?

The NHS and WHO has said obesity is one of the health conditions that may increase your risk of suffering complications from coronavirus.

This has since been backed by further research as the numbers of coronavirus patients have grown.

But most overweight or obese people are not considered “extremely vulnerable” to coronavirus unless they are also pregnant or have another health high risk condition which includes people who have:

  • received an organ transplant and remain on ongoing immunosuppression medication
  • cancer and are undergoing active chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  • cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia who are at any stage of treatment
  • severe chest conditions like cystic fibrosis or severe asthma – requiring hospital admissions or courses of steroid tablets
  • severe diseases of body systems such as kidney disease (dialysis)
  • a condition, or are taking medicine, that makes them much more likely to get infections
  • a serious heart condition

Should I self-isolate if I am obese?

No, unless you have coronavirus symptoms, or are one of the million or so Brits who have been asked to shield for 12 weeks, you don’t need to self-isolate.

If you develop coronavirus symptoms you should follow the same advice for everyone else stay home for seven days.

Will I get a shielding letter if I’m obese?

Unless you have another underlying health condition on the “extremely vulnerable” list, outlined above, you don’t need to shield and you won’t receive a letter from the NHS.

Instead, like all Brits you should follow the government’s stay at home and social distancing advice.


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