Early studies have found that being overweight or obese increases the risk of COVID-19. According to the World Obesity Federation, majority of people who contract the novel coronavirus and die from the disease have a body mass index (BMI) of over 25, which is higher than normal.

In a study conducted in the U.K., it was found that obese patients have a 33% greater risk of dying from COVID-19 than those who are not obese. In a separate study conducted by the National Health Service (NHS), it was also found that the risk of dying from the disease doubles among people who are obese. The risk is even higher among patients who have other pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

According to Prof. Naveed Sattar of the University of Glasgow, obesity puts people at risk of COVID-19 because their lungs have lower capacity. The more fat a person carries, the lower the capacity of his lungs is. That means if a COVID-19 patient is overweight or obese, the more difficult it is for his lungs to get oxygen into the blood and around the body.

“Because people are more overweight, they also have a demand for more oxygen,” said Dr. Sattar. “So that means their system is actually undergoing greater pressure,” he added.

Dr. Dyan Sellayah of the University of Reading explained that during an infection like coronavirus, an obese patient’s reduced lung capacity makes the COVID-19 disease more serious. “Eventually the obese body becomes overwhelmed by the lack of oxygen getting to the major organs,” she said.

During the H1N1 pandemic of 2009, obesity was also considered an independent risk factor for increased mortality following infection. Previous studies also found that people with a BMI of 30 or above fared much worse after being infected by the flu virus than those with a normal BMI.

As of now, obesity is the second biggest risk factor after age when it comes to developing serious complications of COVID-19. Aside from obesity and age, other risk factors for COVID-19 are sex and underlying health issues.

COVID-19 COVID-19 around the world. Photo by Gerd Altmann/Pixabay