Study: Obesity May Play Stronger Role for COVID-19 Deaths in Men

Obesity may play a stronger role in increasing the risk or death, severe pneumonia, and the need for intubation in men than in women with COVID-19 than previously noted. That is the finding of a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Microbiology &  Infectious Diseases.

According to Science Magazine, the study found that men who were moderately obese along with those classified as severely obese, were at high risk for acute illness and death from COVID-19. Only women who were severely obese, but not those who were moderately obese, suffered the same elevated risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a Body Mass Index (BMI) of between 25 and 29 is considered overweight, while a BMI of over 30 is considered to be obese.  People with a BMI of 40 and over are deemed severely obese. The same standards apply for both men and women, says the CDC.

Researchers at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York analyzed data from 3,530 COVID-19 patients with varying body mass indices who were admitted to the center between March 10 and May 1, 2020. The patients were divided into groups according to their BMIs.

Scientists found a strong association between men who had a BMI of 35 and higher, considered moderate obesity, and in-hospital mortality and severe pneumonia. As the men’s BMI went up to the 40 range, meaning they were severely obese, so did their risk of serious illness and death.

The researchers observed the same increased risk of serious complications and mortality only occurred in women whose BMI was 40 and over, and not in the moderately obese cohort, said Science Magazine. The study authors speculated that obesity increases the risk of worst outcomes from COVID-19 because the lungs are already compromised, there are breathing issues, and fatty tissue contains more ACE2 receptors that allow the virus to latch onto human cells.

Previous research has found that obesity is a leading risk factor for COVID-19 complications and may also hinder immune response to vaccines. Recent studies have shown that carrying excess weight increases the severity of the disease and causes a 50% increased risk of dying from COVID-19. The rate of obesity has been skyrocketing in America, prompting healthcare experts to refer to its juxtaposition with the coronavirus as an epidemic within an epidemic.

According to Forbes, statistically, obesity is the most common risk factor for severe disease with over 30% of the population affected. Obesity causes several health issues that predispose people to COVID-19 complications. One of fat’s most powerful effects is suppressing the immune system’s response to the virus.

According to The New York Times, the immune cells of an overweight 30-year-old resemble those of an 80-year-old person. Excess fat not only affects the immune system, it also compresses the lungs, making it harder for people to breathe. The blood from an obese person is more prone to clotting, according to the Times, stripping the tissues of oxygen.

While these medical issues play critical roles in fighting COVID-19, healthcare experts wonder how they will also affect vaccine response. A recent study by Italian researchers suggests that obesity may reduce the immune response to the current COVID-19 vaccines. Researchers found that lean and normal weight people showed a higher antibody response to the vaccines than those who were overweight or obese.

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