One of the scariest things about the novel coronavirus is just how unpredictable the way it affects different people can be. When it comes to people being hospitalized for COVID-19, however, there’s one chronic health condition that is behind the bulk of the hospitalizations in New York City and it has nothing to do with respiratory illness.
Instead, scientists report that obesity is the biggest chronic factor behind hospitalizations with coronavirus, although age remains the single biggest factor behind admissions overall.
It’s an extremely helpful finding as scientists have been trying to determine for months why the disease is manifesting itself in such different ways around the world.
The study’s lead author said that obesity had a stronger association with critical illness than many types of pulmonary or cardiovascular disease. They reached this conclusion after studying 4,103 New Yorkers with coronavirus, although the paper has not yet been peer reviewed.
It’s the biggest case series in the country so far, and the researchers’ aim was to shed more light on which patients have the greatest risk of hospitalization in order to better triage patients and anticipate their medical needs. Half of the patients studied were admitted to a hospital.
In the study, obesity was measured as a person’s weight relative their height using a metric scale; a body mass index of 30 or greater was considered obese.
The big role obesity appears to be playing could indicate that high inflammation in patients can make their experience worse. Obesity is generally associated with inflammation, and inflammation has been cited as a possible factor of the disease in several studies.
This finding coincides with what other studies have found, with experts warning that the risk to Americans from the virus is compounded by the high obesity rates in the U.S. compared to places like China and South Korea.
A different study carried out by NYU Langone Health found that patients younger than 60 had a higher chance of being hospitalized with complications from COVID-19 if they were obese. That study, which appeared in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal, used data from 3,615 coronavirus patients. Those under 60 with BMIs considered to be obese had twice the likelihood of being admitted to a hospital for critical and acute care.
And while there’s no question that obesity is playing a big role in how people fare with this disease, it’s important not to overlook age, which remains the strongest single risk factor for hospitalization. Those older than 65 are considered to have the highest risk.
The researchers wrote in the study that they were surprised that chronic pulmonary disease and cancer didn’t play a more prominent role in the risk models. And although advanced age might have been the most important predictor for hospitalization, they noted that 54 percent of the people who were hospitalized with the disease were actually younger than 65.
With nearly 40 percent of American adults now considered obese, we could be facing a far worse outcome with coronavirus than other hard-hit countries have experienced. Italy’s obesity rate, for example, is 10 percent, while that of China is just 6 percent.
However, this information shouldn’t give people who are at a healthy weight any reason to be less on guard when it comes to coronavirus. Everyone should consider taking the same precautions, regardless of their weight. This goes far beyond social distancing and wearing protective masks while out and about; it also includes consuming a healthy diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables and doing their best to get some exercise without violating any lockdown orders.
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