Obesity heightens risk of coronavirus, France’s chief epidemiologist says

Professor Jean-François Delfraissy claims US particularly in danger

Jack Rathborn
Thursday 09 April 2020 18:54 BST
Coronavirus in numbers

People considered to be obese are more at risk of suffering severe symptoms if they catch coronavirus, according to France’s chief epidemiologist.

It means the US could be particularly vulnerable due to the country’s high levels of obesity, Professor Jean-François Delfraissy claimed.

Mr Delfraissy claimed obesity can lead to severe coronavirus complications, as age and pre-existing health problems are also known to do.

“This virus is terrible, it can hit young people, in particular obese young people. Those who are overweight really need to be careful,” Mr Delfraissy told franceinfo radio.

“That is why we’re worried about our friends in America, where the problem of obesity is well known and where they will probably have the most problems because of obesity.”

Body mass index (BMI), while not accurate for everybody, is the most common way of determining whether somebody is obese with those possessing a BMI of between 18.5 and 24.9 classed as healthy, according to the NHS. Those overweight have a BMI from 25 to 29.9 and those above 30.0 are considered obese.

As of 2018, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considered 42.4 per cent of Americans to be obese, while 2019 data from the NHS classes 29 per cent of adults in the UK as obese.

Mr Delfraissy also declared that 88 per cent of those who contracted the virus would only experience severe flu-like symptoms.

France has been in lockdown since 17 March and measures will remain until at least 15 April. As of Thursday afternoon there had been 86,334 cases and 12,210 fatalities in the country.

Mr Delfraissy acknowledged the percentage of the population to have developed immunity is lower than anticipated. “Initial data show that the number of people who may have developed immunity is lower than we imagined, about 10-15 per cent,” he said, short of the 50 or 60 per cent required to achieve a certain level of “herd immunity”.

The scientist also outlined what the government saw as the best methods to end lockdown, emphasising the importance of stocking a sufficient amount of equipment, including masks, testing kits and tools to trace infected patients.

France now intends to elevate the country’s testing capacity, having already drastically lifted the daily capacity from 3,000 in mid-March to the current rate of 30,000 today, with Mr Delfraissy hopeful that the daily rate will rise to between 100,000-250,000 in two weeks.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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