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Is Obesity A Risk Factor For COVID-19 Complications?

The novel coronavirus disease is declared as a pandemic in 2020. While this respiratory infection, can get severe in some cases and affect the lungs, it can also affect other organs. Some risk factors for severe COVID-19 disease are identified, which include, heart disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure, and kidney disorders. But is obesity a risk factor for COVID-19 complications?

Let us understand this in detail.

Is Obesity A Risk Factor For COVID-19 Complications?

Is Obesity A Risk Factor For COVID-19 Complications?

Obesity is a known risk factor for several conditions like diabetes, heart diseases, and metabolic syndrome. But is obesity a risk factor for COVID-19 complications? Yes, it can.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), severe obesity is defined as body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above, puts people at greater risk for complications from COVID-19.1 This is mainly because people with severe obesity the risk of serious breathing problem is high, which can result in acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). As ARDS is a common complication of COVID-19, people with severe obesity and already an underlying condition of respiratory distress can pose a challenge in treatment.

Additionally, people with severe obesity can have multiple serious chronic diseases and other underlying health conditions that could be other risk factors for COVID-19 complications.1 In people with obesity, the respiratory function can be compromised due to underlying conditions like asthma, restrictive lung disease, or obstructive sleep apnea. Also, people with obesity often have a predisposition to cardiovascular diseases, which may mean that such patients will have a less physiologic reserve if cardiac complications of COVID-19 develop.2 This makes it difficult to manage the case and further increases the risk of severe disease. Thus, it is clear that obesity is a risk factor for COVID-19 complications.

While it is commonly known that elderly people are at greater risk, it is also important to understand that obesity too, can increase the risk of COVID-19 complications.

According to a study, after age, the next important predictor for COVID-19 complications is obesity.3 People with obesity can have hypoventilation syndrome. This is a condition, in which there is breathing difficulty associated with adiposity and deposition of excess fatty tissue around the lungs. Moreover, the ACE-2 receptor, which is known to be the gateway of the virus to enter the body, is made of fat tissue, is more likely to enter inside, in people with more fat deposition.3

As obesity is a risk factor for COVID-19 complications, apart from heart and pulmonary patients, people with obesity need to take extra precautions to prevent COVID-19 precautions.

What Research Studies Say About Obesity and Covid-19?

Various research studies have been working intending to understand the relationship between obesity and COVID-19.

Recent reports have shown that there is an increase in the inflammatory environment, which results in aggravated cytokine profile in COVID-19 patients. It is also known that obesity represents a state of low-grade inflammation, which various inflammatory products secreted by the adipose tissue. Hyperplastic or hypertrophied adipose tissue releases inflammatory cytokines, thus explaining that the inflammatory process is high in obese conditions. Features of inflammation are also related to hypoxia (lack of oxygen in the blood or adipose tissue) and ischemia (reduce blood supply). Both these conditions can further increase the inflammatory response and damage the cells. These changes in the cells, increase the risk of metabolic syndrome and conditions like insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, and arterial hypertension.4

Another study suggests that the presence of obesity in metabolic associated fatty liver disease (MAFLD) patients was associated with a 6-fold increased risk of severe COVID-19 disease.5 Obesity thus poses a great risk factor for COVID-19 complications that can cause even younger people landing in the ICU.6

Thus, it can be concluded that obesity is a risk factor for COVID-19 complications and can result in increased severity of the disease. This can increase the risk of a severe coronavirus disease even for younger people. Hence, it is necessary to take appropriate precautions. Follow a healthy diet and exercise routine to manage weight, as much as possible. Seek timely medical advice and report if you note any symptoms of COVID-19.


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Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 1, 2021

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