It is becoming increasingly clear that obesity is one of the biggest risk factors for severe COVID-19 disease, particularly among younger patients.

Recent studies have shown that young adults with obesity are more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19, even if they have no other health problems. This means that apparantly healthy, but obese younger adults can have a severe COVID-19 outcome.

In fact, Obesity may be one of the most important predictors of severe coronavirus illness, new studies say.

Though people with obesity frequently have other medical problems, the new studies point to the condition in and of itself as the most significant risk factor, after only older age, for being hospitalized with COVID-19. Anecdotal reports from doctors indicate they have been struck by how many seriously ill younger patients of theirs with obesity are otherwise healthy.

No one knows why obesity makes COVID-19 worse, but contributing factors may include:

  • Some coronavirus patients with obesity may already have compromised respiratory function that preceded the infection.
  • Abdominal obesity, more prominent in men, can cause compression of the diaphragm, lungs and chest capacity.
  • Obesity is known to cause chronic, low-grade inflammation and an increase in circulating, pro-inflammatory cytokines, which may play a role in the worst COVID-19 outcomes.

“Obesity is more important for hospitalization than whether you have high blood pressure or diabetes, though these often go together, and it’s more important than coronary disease or cancer or kidney disease, or even pulmonary disease,” said Dr. Leora Horwitz, director of the Center for Healthcare Innovation and Delivery Science at NYU Langone.

As more evidence continues to amass that obesity is a key factor in more serious COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, it strengthens the argument that it is important to address overweight and obesity now, rather than later.

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