Are you more likely to die from coronavirus if you are obese?

Adults with a BMI of 30 to 39.9 are considered obese.

obese 88 248 (photo credit: )
obese 88 248
(photo credit: )
Being obese could put you at greater risk for complications and even death from coronavirus, according to health experts.
Adults with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 to 39.9 are considered obese.
One reason for this is that people who are obese tend to have comorbidities, such as diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia (abnormal amount of lipids), cardiovascular disease, stroke or gallbladder disease, according to Dr. Manfred Green, a public health expert at the University of Haifa.
Although we are still in the preliminary stages of understanding SARS-CoV-2, he said doctors are finding that the four most common underlying medical conditions that lead to critical cases of coronavirus are obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
“This is not mortality, but in terms of becoming a critical case,” Green said. In Israel, where fewer than 200 people have died, it is too early to make this connection.
However, looking at countries with higher death rates, such as China, Italy and the US, a correlation between obesity and death from coronavirus is becoming clearer, he said.
Nearly 40% of adults age 20 and over are obese, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported. These people are disproportionately minorities, especially within the black community, Green said. Regarding coronavirus, 33% of those hospitalized are African-Americans, even though blacks are 13% of the US population, according to the CDC.
In Chicago, where more than 1,500 people have died of COVID-19, the Chicago Department of Health showed that nearly 70% of deaths in the city have been African-Americans, who make up about 30% of the population.
In Michigan, blacks represent 14% of the population but 45% of deaths, according to the Michigan Department of Health.
Green said blacks tend to have more underlying health conditions associated with morbidity, including those who are most susceptible to coronavirus complications, such as heart disease. This sickness, according to the CDC, is tied to a number of factors, including socioeconomic, lifestyle, social environment and access to preventive healthcare services.
Why would obesity specifically cause complications for a person with coronavirus?
According to Dr. Raz Hagoel, the founder and medical director of Dr. Raz Medical Weight Loss Center in Tel Aviv, the most obvious answer is that it is harder to intubate obese patients.
Difficult tracheal intubation contributes to significant morbidity and mortality during induction of anesthesia, a report by the National Institute of Health showed. That same report highlighted that incidence of difficult intubation is 11% in obese people and 7% in lean people. Moreover, obese patients are difficult to mask-ventilate.
It is also “just harder for doctors and nurses to move these patients and do what is needed,” Hagoel said.
Coronavirus is not the first time we have seen such a correlation. Health professionals drew a correlation between obesity and morbid obesity (100 pounds over his or her ideal body weight) and serious complications related to the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, also known as the swine flu pandemic.
A number of studies suggested that many 2009 H1N1 patients tended to be morbidly obese, the CDC reported. One study that was published by the scientific journal PLoS ONE found that morbidly obese persons had a higher risk of hospitalization for 2009 H1N1 infection compared with persons with normal weight. Data from this study also suggested that risk of death following swine flu infection was higher for morbidly obese individuals.
A separate study showed that people who were obese or morbidly obese were at higher risk of dying from swine flu, even without any previously recognized high-risk conditions, the CDC reported.
Hagoel acknowledged that people do not always gain weight because of eating too much, though high-calorie foods and a sedentary lifestyle are key factors in weight gain. Still, certain medications, depression and even stress can lead to weight gain.
If people are obese, there is not much that can be done now, but Green said these people should do what they can. Even under the current circumstances, he recommended that people eat right and exercise, including taking daily walks while abiding by Health Ministry regulations.
“This virus is a big problem, and it is not going away tomorrow,” Hagoel said, adding that even if the country gets a temporary reprieve, experts believe there will be a second wave of coronavirus.
“Make it a goal to get healthy,” he said.