Since its outbreak, reports on covid-19 have repeatedly emphasized that older adults are the most vulnerable to the worst effects of the disease, particularly those with pre-existing heart and lung conditions. More recent reports, however, have started to show that obesity-related conditions, which are more prevalent among the younger ages, too can worsen the effects of the disease.
The risk from obesity could increase fatality significantly among the younger age cohorts, a note prepared by David A Kass of John Hopkins University and others suggests. Based on data of 265 covid-19 patients admitted to ICUs at various university hospitals in the US, the researchers find that there is a significant inverse relationship between age and body mass index (BMI). They find that younger individuals admitted to these hospitals were much more likely to be obese.
The median BMI was found to be 29.3 kg/m², with 25% of individuals having a BMI of less than 26 kg/m², and 25% exceeding a BMI of 34.7 kg/m. They did not find any significant differences across sexes.
Kass and others explain that obesity can aggravate the risk of the disease through many channels. For instance, it can restrict ventilation by impeding diaphragm excursion. It is pro-inflammatory, and induces diabetes and oxidant stress which is likely to adversely affect cardiovascular functions. They therefore suggest that in populations with a high prevalence of obesity, covid-19 could affect younger populations more than was previously anticipated.
This risk is particularly relevant in the US where the prevalence of obesity is around 40%, compared to 6.2% in China, 20% in Italy, and 24% in Spain, they point out.
The researchers recommended that the threshold for virus testing should be lowered for obese individuals. Issuing public service messages to young adults and maintaining greater vigilance for this at-risk population should also help to reduce the fatality of covid-19.
Also read: Obesity could shift severe COVID-19 disease to younger ages