Experts are studying why people who are obese are at higher risk for getting severely ill when infected with the new coronavirus.

Doctors noticed in the early days of the pandemic that many of the patients severely ill from COVID-19 were obese. With the link between obesity and higher COVID-19 risk more apparent today, researchers are trying to figure out if there is anything about the coronavirus that makes the obese more susceptible to severe COVID-19.

A study involving 5,200 COVID-19 patients found that those with higher BMIs had greater chances of hospitalization than those with normal BMIs. But while obesity increases the chances of developing heart problems and diabetes—both among the conditions that make COVID-19 patients more likely to get very ill, there is no evidence that obesity itself can increase the likelihood of developing serious coronavirus infection.

According to researchers, several factors likely make it more difficult for the obese to fight a coronavirus infection. Since carrying around a lot of unnecessary weight puts a strain on the body, the excess fat tends to limit the ability of the lungs to expand and breathe. Researchers are also looking into how chronic inflammation affects how the obese fight COVID-19. Chronic inflammation comes with obesity. While inflammation is a natural way for the body to fight off harmful viruses, long-lasting inflammation tends to undermine the body’s defenses when the real threat emerges.

“It’s like pouring gasoline on a smoldering fire,” said obesity expert Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, adding that even without diabetes or heart disease, an obese person’s health is not optimal.

Researchers also believe there is something specific about the virus itself that makes the obese more prone to getting very ill. Since the receptor where the virus attaches itself is abundant in fat cells, there is a theory that the obese are good nests for the coronavirus.

While the reason behind obese people’s higher susceptibility to COVID-19 is still unknown, one thing is for sure: obesity impairs an aspect of the immune system that needs to be activated for vaccines to work. That is why scientists are afraid that a COVID-19 vaccine may not be as effective for the obese as it is for people with normal BMIs.

Vaccines for flu and other diseases do not work as effectively to the obese as they do to people with normal body weight, and researchers believe that such may also be the case with the coronavirus vaccine. .Regardless of the factors at play, however, Dr. Nancie MacIver said it is still important for everyone—obese or not— to get COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available.

COVID-19 positive
Test result shows a patient is COVID-19 positive. Pixabay

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