(The Guardian)–Obesity increases the risk of death from Covid-19 by nearly 50% and may make vaccines against the disease less effective, according to a recent study using global data.
The research from leading global experts warns that the risks for people with obesity are greater than previously thought.
But the Caribbean is not far behind. A PAHO report noted obesity affects 140 million people – 23 percent of the region’s population – and that the highest rates are to be found in the Caribbean countries of Barbados (36 percent) Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda all at around 31 percent.
The most recent global study is led by Prof Barry Popkin, of the department of nutrition at the UNC Gillings Global School of Public Health, who told the Guardian he was shocked by the findings. The risk of dying from Covid-19 for people with obesity was much higher than anyone had thought.
“That’s a pretty big effect, for me,” said Popkin. “It is a 50% increase essentially. That’s a pretty high scary number. All of it is actually – much higher than I ever expected.”
The risk of being admitted to hospital for people with obesity was doubled, he said, at 113%. “That, ICU admission and mortality are really high,” he said. “They all shocked me, to be honest.”
The study, published in the journal Obesity Reviews, brings together data from many studies carried out around the world, including Italy, France, the UK, the US and China.
Obesity is a global problem that no country has yet successfully tackled.
People with obesity often have underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk from the coronavirus, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Obesity can cause metabolic changes, such as insulin resistance and inflammation which make it harder for the body to fight off infections.
“All of these factors can influence immune cell metabolism, which determines how bodies respond to pathogens, like the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus,” said co-author Prof Melinda Beck. “Individuals with obesity are also more likely to experience physical ailments that make fighting this disease harder, such as sleep apnoea, which increases pulmonary hypertension, or a body mass index that increases difficulties in a hospital setting with intubation.”
Any vaccine developed for Covid-19 may not work as well in people with obesity, say the authors.
“We know a Covid vaccine will have a positive effect on obese people but we suspect from all our knowledge from tests on the Sars vaccine and the flu vaccine it will have a diminished benefit compared to the others,” said Popki
They had convinced the Centers for Disease Control which oversees public health in the US that people with obesity were not getting the full benefit of standard flu vaccines, he said. “We now have a stronger flu vaccine for overweight people,” he said.
Readers are advised that if they think they are overweight, now is a good time to discuss with a doctor what they can do to reduce weight, reduce Covid-19 risk, and live longer.