Coronavirus: Obesity and ethnicity linked to greater risk of contracting disease, suggests research

The findings suggest people from the BAME community may be at greater risk from Covid-19

Matt Mathers
Thursday 21 May 2020 16:20 BST
The sunshine vitamin: Stirling has the lowest levels of Vitamin D in the UK

People who are overweight or obese, and of Asian, Black or Mixed ethnicity, could be at greater risk from Covid-19, research suggests.

A study by the Surrey and Southampton Universities, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, compared the blood samples of 1,300 adults on the UK Biobank health-monitoring programme, of which 580 had tested positive for the coronavirus.

It also found that vitamin D levels among white people were around 53 per cent higher than among people of black and ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds, while people of healthy weight had 25 per cent more than people who are overweight.

The results suggest that people who are overweight and have darker skin tones could be at greater risk of catching the disease. The findings may also help to explain disproportionate levels of infection among the BAME community.

Vitamin D is a type of mineral that helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body and it is produced by the skin being exposed to the sun.

It produces nutrients that help keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy, and provide a boost to the immune system more generally.

Research suggests that people who have black or darker skin produce less melanin which means they find it more difficult to produce vitamin D.

According to the Surrey and Southampton universities study, the odds of being diagnosed with Covid-19 were far greater for ethnic minorities, although the study did not draw any conclusions about the relationship between ethnicity, Vitamin D-levels and the risk of catching Covid-19.

Robert Brown, of the McCarrison Society, a nutrition think tank, told The Times: “Established science already tells us the crucial role vitamin D plays in the immune system and in protecting against respiratory infection.

“It also explains why ethnic minorities, the obese and elderly — particularly when living at higher latitudes — are more likely to be deficient.

“Six studies and our own research have found lower rates of Covid-19 mortality in patients and populations with lower levels of D deficiency.”

It comes after figures released by the Office for National Statistics earlier this month showed that black people are twice as likely to die from the virus even when underlying health conditions were taken into consideration.

Oliver van Hecke, a lecturer at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, urged caution around the data. “The evidence that having adequate levels of vitamin D prevents you from contracting Covid-19 is not there,” he said.

UPDATE 21.05.20: A previous version of this article reported that the results of a study by the Surrey and Southampton Universities had suggested that people with lower levels of vitamin D could be at greater risk from Covid-19. While the vitamin D levels of those who had tested positive and negative for Covid-19 were investigated as part of the study, and Vitamin-D levels were found to be linked to ethnicity, the study did not draw any conclusions about the relationship between ethnicity, Vitamin D-levels and the risk of catching Covid-19. Public Health England has issued advice for people to consider taking a vitamin D supplement during lockdown. The article has been amended to reflect this.

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