Obesity increases risk of death from coronavirus and could make vaccines less effective

pharmafile | August 27, 2020 | News story | Medical Communications obesity 

Obesity can increase the risk of death from coronavirus by nearly 50% and could make a vaccine less effective, according to a new study. 

The research was conducted by the University of North Carolina (UNC), the Saudi Health Council and the World Bank. The team looked at data from 75 studies around the world which included 400,000 coronavirus patients. The study found that obese people with the virus were twice as likely to end up in hospital and 74% more likely to be transferred to an intensive care unit. They were also 48% more at risk of dying than non-obese people. 

Professor Barry Popkin, from the UNC Gillings Global School of Public Health, said the findings were “shocking” and feels the 50% increase in mortality is a “pretty high scary number. All of it is actually, much higher than I ever expected.”

People with obesity are also far more likely to have underlying health conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and it can also cause insulin resistance and inflammation which makes it harder for the body to fight off infections. Diabetics in general are one of the worst-affected groups by COVID-19 in terms of fatalities. 

A coronavirus vaccine may also not work as well in obese recipients. While it will help to some extent, data from SARS and the flu vaccine show these treatments have a diminished benefit, meaning a stronger vaccine would be needed for obese people. 

This study was published ahead of a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research, which called on the UK Government to restrict access to junk food. The think tank said that radical policies were needed to bring down obesity levels that result in so many people contracting serious diseases that both shorten people’s lives and put a burden on the NHS. They suggest the government should create significant taxes on unhealthy foods that exceed a certain energy density or calorie count, and expand the taxes on sugary products. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously hit out at the “sin taxes” that hiked prices on junk food in 2019, but it is reported his own hospitalisation with coronavirus was worsened because of his weight, which has since convinced him to take obesity more seriously. 

Conor Kavanagh

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