Coronavirus: Obesity doubles risk of needing hospital treatment, study suggests

‘People with obesity are more likely to end up in hospital with Covid,’ says Glasgow University scientist

Adam Forrest
Thursday 07 May 2020 10:11
First patients given plasma in coronavirus treatment trial

Being obese doubles the risk of going to hospital because of severe coronavirus symptoms, according to a new study.

Analysis by University of Glasgow scientists adds to the growing body of research suggesting excess weight could be among the biggest risk factors for Covid-19.

Looking at data from 420,000 people, the team found patients with obesity are twice as likely to need treatment for the disease in hospital.

It follows comments made by health secretary Matt Hancock on Wednesday, who suggested that “the age profile and factors like obesity” may have to be taken into account when working out why the UK has the highest death toll in Europe.

“Certainly we think from what we’ve seen BMI [body mass index] is part of the picture,” Dr Paul Welsh, a lecturer at the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Cardiovascular & Medical Sciences, told The Times.

“Previous studies have really focused on, once patients are in hospital, who ends up needing ventilation and who ends up dying. And we’ve seen in numerous different studies that obese patients tend to progress in a worse way.

He added: “People with obesity are more likely to end up in hospital with Covid.”

Dr Welsh told the newspaper his team found that for every increase of four and a half units in body mass index, the risk of death from the coronavirus increased by about 25 per cent.

Last week a University of Liverpool-led study of 17,000 coronavirus hospital admissions found death rates were 37 per cent higher among obese patients.

Deputy chief scientific adviser Dame Angela MacLean has also highlighted the link with excess weight.

“We have very fine evidence, actually, from rather beautiful studies, gathered from in patients in our hospitals with Covid-19 and those studies show that once you’re in hospital being obese is an additional risk factor for being admitted to an ICU or indeed for death,” she said earlier this week.

One doctor caused controversy by suggested Boris Johnson had suffered severe Covid-19 symptoms because he is “significantly overweight”. Cardiologist Dr Assem Malhotra told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “It’s an observation, but it does fit with the evidence.”

Separate research published on Thursday by academics at Bristol Medical School showed a large body size during childhood may increase the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes in later life.

Scientists at the institution said their findings show there is “a window of opportunity” between childhood and adulthood to mitigate the effect of childhood obesity on disease risk.

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