Can obesity reduce Covid-19 survival chances?

The Claim: Claim: The Chronicle Newspaper in an article titled, "Obesity reduces Covid-19 survival chances" which was published on 20 August 2021, claimed that Zimbabwe's urban population is at a higher risk of dying from Covid-19 because of an increase in obesity."Zimbabwe's urban population is at higher risk of dying from Covid-19 because of an increase in obesity. After old age, obesity causes the most deaths from the virus," read part of the article.
The Verdict: claim verdict

Claim: The Chronicle Newspaper in an article titled, “Obesity reduces Covid-19 survival chances” which was published on 20 August 2021, claimed that Zimbabwe’s urban population is at a higher risk of dying from Covid-19 because of an increase in obesity.

“Zimbabwe’s urban population is at higher risk of dying from Covid-19 because of an increase in obesity. After old age, obesity causes the most deaths from the virus,” read part of the article.

Contacted for a comment, Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive officer, Professor Solwayo Ngwenya said people who are obese may encounter serious problems with Covid-19.

“It is very true, apparently when you are obese you have really serious problems with Covid-19 and we advise people that are obese to make sure they don’t get infected by coronavirus,” he said.

“One, it may cause your sugar levels to go up very rapidly, the interaction between coronavirus and fat can cause a lot of sugar to rise up and you may die suddenly without even feeling anything, so it is important that people actually don’t get infected.

“Number two, when you now have symptoms and you are trying to breathe and you are obese, there is a problem there as well and even if you are in hospital for you to be intubated, put in machines and so forth, most people have problems, they can not be intubated very well and so forth,” he said.

Bulawayo City Council (BCC) Director of Health Services, Dr Edwin Sibanda said, ” I do not have any research to quote on it, however, obesity predisposes to high blood pressure and diabetes, two conditions associated with severe Covid-19 disease.”

Acting United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) chief executive officer, Dr Narcisius Dzvanga also said other risk factors are diabetes, high blood pressure and old age.

Meanwhile, the Health Desk Experts said obesity is a known risk factor for severe Covid-19 outcomes.

The experts said data on hospitalised patients from other countries such as the United States showed that individuals with an obese body mass index (BMI) had an increased risk of death from Covid-19.

“Obesity is also a risk factor for severe Covid-19 outcomes not limited to hospitalisation, intensive care unit (ICU) admission, mechanical ventilation requirement, and mortality,” the experts said.

“In March 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reviewed data from the Premier Healthcare Database Special Covid-19 Release (PHD-SR). Across the U.S., 238 hospitals contributed data on 148,494 patients admitted for Covid-19 infection between March and December 2020. Patients with an obese BMI of 30-34.9 kg/m2 had 1.08 times the risk of death from Covid-19. Patients with an obese BMI of 45 kg/m2 or more had 1.61 times the risk. The association for death was even more pronounced among adults less than 65 years of age. Patients in this category with a BMI of 45 kg/m2 or more had 2.01 times the risk of death,” they said.

The Health Desk Experts, however, said more research is needed to better understand how obesity increases an individual’s risk of death and other severe outcomes from Covid-19.

“Experts speculate that the chronic inflammation present with obesity may weaken the immune system, making an individual more susceptible to infections. Excess weight may also impair lung function and contribute to worse outcomes,” they said.

Background: Obesity is abnormal and excessive adiposity or body fat. It is determined using body mass index (BMI), a crude marker of health status calculated by dividing a person’s weight (in kilograms) by the square of their height (in meters).

Though it is not a definitive diagnostic tool for health, BMI is used to inexpensively screen an individual’s risk for chronic diseases. Those with an overweight or obese BMI are at a higher risk of a poorer quality of life, all-cause mortality, and other diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, osteoarthritis, and some cancers.

“Obesity is now recognized as a complex, chronic disease influenced by myriad and interconnected factors, like geographic location, socioeconomic status, educational background, ethnicity, diet, exercise, and family genetics. Obesity rates are also increasing across all age groups. In the United States, between 2017-2018, the prevalence was highest among adults aged 40 to 59 years, followed by adults aged 30-39 years, and adults aged 60 years and over,” the experts said.

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