A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that the majority of COVID-19 hospitalization, ventilators used, and deaths are dominated by overweight and obese Americans.

Last week, the World Obesity Federation using data from the Johns Hopkins University released a study entitled, "COVID-19 and Obesity. The 20201 Atlas" showing the dramatic correlation between obesity rates and international death rates.

The study found that countries like the US and the UK, with nearly half of their population classified as overweight or obese, have higher death rates per capita compared to countries with lower adult obesity rates such as Vietnam with only 18.3%.

Obesity and COVID-19

Roughly 8 in 10 patients hospitalized due to the coronavirus were either overweight or obese according to a study by the CDC entitled, "Body Mass Index and Risk for COVID-19-Related Hospitalization, Intensive Care Unit Admission, Invasive Mechanical Ventilation, and Death--United States, March-December 2020."

The study highlights that out of 148,494 adults that received COVID-19 diagnosis in emergency departments or inpatient visits at 298 US hospitals, from March to December 2020, 71,491 were hospitalized.

Among those hospitalized 27.8% were overweight while 50.2% were obese.

The CDC defines overweight as having a body mass index of 25 or higher, while obesity has a BMI of 30 or more.

The study found that hospitalization risks, ICU admissions, and deaths were lower with individuals with under 25 BMIs. The risks of severe illnesses dramatically increased as a patient's BMIs rose especially for people 65 and older.

According to the agency, obesity contributes to serious illnesses due to excess weight impairing proper lung function and may disrupt the body's immune response.

A past CDC study notes that 42.4% of the American population were considered obese based on BMI.

Black and Hispanic American communities hit hard by the pandemic are more prone to obesity. Roughly 40% of Black adults reported BMIs higher than 30, followed by Hispanics with 33.8%.

Man using computer in dark room
(Photo : Photo by Robert Nagy from Pexels)

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Public Health Implications of Obesity and Higher BMIs

The agency says that as clinicians develop strategies for COVID-19 patients, the risks for severe outcomes for patients with higher BMIs, especially patients with severe obesity should be considered.

The CDC adds that findings from the study highlight the public health implications of higher BMIs which should include, promotion of COVID prevention strategies, vaccine prioritization, masking, and policies that safeguard the community's access to nutrition and physical activities.

Obesity is a common chronic disease in the US. The agency previously warns that obesity increases the risks of severe illnesses, including costly hospitalizations. Obesity has been associated with impaired immune functions and decreased lung capacities which make ventilation more difficult.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stresses that the study conducted had limitations. Risks estimates for severed COVID-19 patients were only measured in adults that received hospital care. Thus, the estimate may differ from the risks of all adults with COVID-19. Additionally, only adults that reported height and weight information were included in the CDC's report.

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