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Obesity makes COVID-19 more severe for young people, study finds

Researchers say the combination could lead to severe medical conditions

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A new study conducted by researchers from UT Southwestern Medical Center found that young people who are overweight or obese are at an increased risk of developing severe cases of COVID-19. Their work found that age wasn’t a protective factor against infection; instead, obesity increased the likelihood for serious medical complications associated with COVID-19. 

“In general, obese individuals are more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than normal weight individuals,” said researcher Dr. Nicholas Hendren. “In the hospital, obese individuals are at a higher risk for death, or the need for medical ventilation to help them breathe, even if they are young.” 

Risks of obesity

To better understand the risk that obesity poses to young people with COVID-19, the researchers analyzed data from more than 7,600 patients involved in the American Heart Association’s COVID-19 Cardiovascular Disease Registry. They broke down the data by patients’ ages, prior health concerns, and body mass indices (BMIs). 

Overall, the researchers found that patients under the age of 50 were more likely to be overweight or obese than patients over the age of 70, which translated to poorer health outcomes for the younger group. The researchers learned that obesity in younger COVID-19 patients increased the risk of death by more than 35 percent, and that percentage only went up as BMI scores increased.

“There is a greater proportion of obese people among those hospitalized for COVID-19, and obese patients are at higher risk for complications,” said researcher Dr. Justin Grodin. 

While the team had no concrete explanation for why obesity greatly affects COVID-19 outcomes, the researchers noted several possible reaons. Having excess body weight can have an effect on breathing without the virus; once infected, those breathing troubles are only exacerbated. They also explained that obesity is often accompanied by other health complications, like diabetes, which can weaken the immune system and increase the risks associated with coronavirus. 

“If you’re young and obese, you’re still at a high risk despite your age,” said Dr. Grudin. 

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