While much is still unknown about coronavirus, some things have remained consistent. Deaths and severe illness have been more rampant in older populations and among those with underlying conditions.
The term “underlying conditions” is slightly vague and it encompasses a wide range of health issues from heart disease to COPD to diabetes. But according to the CDC one underlying condition is emerging as a top indicator of severe effects from coronavirus — obesity.
Forty-two percent of Americans are obese, according to the CDC, meaning their body mass index is over 30. Obesity is known to cause a slew of health issues, but being overweight is looking like a major reason younger people are having a more severe reaction to COVID-19.
Obesity was the Top Underlying Condition of Younger Patients Hospitalized in March
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s report on hospitalization rates and characteristics of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 from the month of March showed that that obesity was the number one underlying condition of patients ages 18 to 64.
For all ages combined, obesity turned out to be the second most common underlying condition among hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the study, but among the 65 and over set it was second to high blood pressure.
Being obese often accompanies — or is the cause of — other health issues including high blood pressure, heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic, but younger obese people are reportedly being admitted to hospitals even if obesity is their only health issue.
For patients who are diabetic, which is often linked to weight and diet, there is also emerging information that diabetes is turning out to be a common factor in patients that succumb to the virus. The Guardian reported that one-out-of four patients who died of COVID-19 in hospitals in England had diabetes after the National Health Service released new findings Thursday.
Professor Partha Kar, the organization’s specialty adviser on coronavirus told The Guardian, “It is clear that people with diabetes are more at risk of dying from Covid-19. More detailed analysis is currently underway to understand the link between the two, although initial findings indicate that the threat in people under 40 continues to be very low.”
One Study Showed the More Obese a Person Was the Worse Their COVID-19 Symptoms Were
A study out of France found that obesity was “unexpectedly” common amongst patients admitted to the ICU. The study found that the severity of symptoms increased with their higher body mass index and that the need for ventilation was much higher in patients with severe obesity regardless of their age or gender or whether they had other conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure.
Jennifer Lighter, an epidemiologist at New York University’s Langone School of Medicine told Science News that obesity could be a leading cause of death in patients 60 and younger.
“BMI is the Achilles’ heel for American patients,” she said. “In China it was smoking and pollution, and Italy had a larger older population, and many grandparents lived with extended families. Here, it’s BMI that’s the issue.”
A Vascular Medicine and Interventional Cardiology doctor at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Sanjum S. Sethi MD, MPH tweeted on April 12 about the difficulties saving obese patients, saying, “This is a horrible, relentless, nasty disease in its severe form. If the patient is obese and/or has renal failure, the prognosis is extremely grim. They are NOT dying from comorbidities. They are dying from COVID -19.”
Some medical experts recommend that obese people take the maximum amount of precautions to avoid getting COVID-19, like avoiding public places and wearing masks when they do need to go out.
Obese patients also have an advantage. The condition can change. According to the Mayo Clinic, “The good news is that even modest weight loss can improve or prevent the health problems associated with obesity. Dietary changes, increased physical activity and behavior changes can help you lose weight.”