Obesity May Impact Mortality in COVID-19 Patients

Obesity may be a risk factor in deaths caused by COVID-19, concludes a new analysis published in the journal Obesity by GW Milken Institute School of Public Health experts.

Carlos Santos-Burgoa, MD, MPH, PhD, a professor of global health; and William Dietz, MD, PhD, chair of the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness, looked at previous research on the H1N1 influenza pandemic as well as reports coming in from Italy and China and concluded that obesity is likely a pre-existing disease that can make COVID-19 worse.

They point out that obesity was a significant risk factor in the H1N1 influenza pandemic and should be factored into the care of COVID-19 patients with obesity. Researchers studying the H1N1 pandemic found that obesity led to decreased respiratory function, difficulties with ventilation, and increased inflammatory cytokines that contributed to death. The same problems may be occurring with COVID-19 patients who have obesity, they say.

“The H1N1 influenza experience should serve as a caution for the care of COVID patients with obesity, and particularly patients with severe obesity,” the authors point out adding that the prevalence of obesity in the U.S. has been on the rise. According to the statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention an estimated 42 percent of all adults in the US have obesity or severe obesity.

In addition, the increased mortality from COVID-19 in Italy might be related to a higher prevalence of adult obesity there as compared to the reports coming in from China.

 “These observations emphasize the need for increased vigilance, priority on detection and testing, and aggressive therapy for patients with obesity and COVID-19 infections,” write Santos-Burgoa and Dietz.

The Letter to the Editor, “Obesity and its Implications for COVID-19 Mortality” was published in Obesity on April 1.