Researchers have found that the risk of greater COVID-19 severity and death is higher in people with any obese body mass index (BMI). The findings, published in the European Journal of Endocrinology, showed that BMI over 30 was associated with a significantly higher risk of respiratory failure, admission to intensive care and death in COVID-19 patients, regardless of age, gender and other associated diseases.
"Our study showed that any grade of obesity is associated with severe COVID-19 illness and suggests that people with mild obesity should also be identified as a population at risk," said study researcher Matteo Rottoli from the Alma Mater Studiorum University of Bologna in Italy.
The current guidelines for identifying those at higher risk in the UK are set at a BMI of 40 but these data suggest people with BMI over 30 should also be classified as at risk.
Numerous Studies Implicate Obesity
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, several studies have implicated obesity as a risk factor for more severe effects and death in Sars-COV-2 infection. The UK and US guidelines for identifying those at greater risk are set at a BMI of 40 and above.
However, these recommendations were necessarily based on smaller studies and limited data, given the novelty and fast progression of the Sars-COV-2 pandemic. For the findings, the research team analyzed the outcomes of almost 500 patients hospitalized with COVID-19.
They found that obesity was associated with a significantly higher risk of severity and death but also that any BMI higher than 30 was associated with these adverse outcomes. According to the study, the association between higher BMI and severe COVID-19 illness is strong but the cause remains to be explained.
An impaired immunological response to viral infections, alterations of lung function, and obesity-related chronic inflammatory states have all been suggested as the link. The next step for this research would be to understand these mechanisms.
"Our hypothesis is that COVID infection outcomes depend on the metabolic profile of patients and that obesity, interlaced with diabetes and metabolic syndrome are involved too," Rottoli said."BMI cut-off should be reassessed to ensure we identify everyone at higher risk of serious infection and to avoid underestimating the potential population impact of COVID-19 infection," he noted.