Well Known Coronavirus Severity Risks Include Age, Pre-Existing Health Conditions, and Being Male. To be clear, we're not talking here about exposure risks, which depend on behaviors such as avoiding contact with potentially infected people. For purposes of this post, we're focused on severity of coronavirus once infected.
There's not much most people can do about their age, gender, or pre-existing health conditions once they're present. But there's a fourth factor highly correlated with severe coronavirus outcomes in those who become infected: obesity or being significantly overweight.
For example, a French study that examined 124 consecutive coronavirus patients admitted to intensive care found that over 75% of the patients were obese (BMI > 30 kg/m2) or severely obese (BMI > 35 kg/m2). Over 85% of severely obese patients required invasive mechanical ventilation (IMV). In fact, severely obese patients (BMI > 35 kg/m2) were over 7 times as likely to require IMV compared to their normal weight counterparts (BMI < 25 kg/m2).
A Chinese study that examined 383 consecutively admitted coronavirus patients defined overweight and obese slightly differently (overweight as 24.0–27.9 kg/m2 and obese as ≥28 kg/m2). Obese patients in this study were over 3 times as likely to develop severe COVID-19, compared to normal weight patients (18.5–23.9 kg/m2).
A U.S. study conducted in Rhode Island Hospitals retrospectively analyzed 103 patients, and found that patients who were severely obese (BMI > 35 kg/m2) were over 5 times as likely to be admitted to intensive care and 10 times as likely to require IMV compared to their normal weight counterparts.
In addition to the higher likelihood of severe symptoms requiring intensive care and mechanical ventilation, obese patients may not be able to be placed on their stomach, which is the safest position when connected to ventilators, since patients are then able to use the less damaged parts of their lungs.
Doctors have also noted that it can be harder to obtain good ultrasound images, due to excess tissue, with very obese patients, and that CAT scans may not be possible as the machines have weight limits.
Obesity is also associated with high inflammation, possibly leading to the cytokine storms that can fuel some COVID-19 deaths, and with dangerous blood clotting, which has also been a hallmark of many serious cases.
While the studies have focused on obesity, even for those of us not obese, it's always possible to improve our diet, fitness, sleep, and overall health. The better one's overall health and immune system, the better one's chances of more successfully fighting the virus if accidentally infected.
Have you sought to eat better for health during the coronavirus pandemic, or encouraged loved ones to become healthier, due to concerns about the correlation between obesity and more severe coronavirus outcomes?
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