Obese Patients at Higher Risk of COVID-19 Complications

Obese Patients at Higher Risk of COVID-19 Complications

  • May. 18, 2020 5:00 p.m.

Obese Patients at Higher Risk of COVID-19 Complications

In the play, Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare wrote, “Let me have men about me that are fat. Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look. Such men are dangerous.” Ceasar saw no risk in well-fed men. But fast ahead 500 years, and we now know that being overweight is a major health hazard. Several reports show this is especially true for those attacked by COVID-19.

A study of 17,000 hospital patients with COVID-19 in the UK showed that those overweight had a 33% greater risk of dying than those who were not obese.

Another study by the British National Health Service showed the risk of dying from COVID-19 doubled among obese people. Researchers noted that having additional risk factors related to obesity, such as diabetes or heart disease, makes the rate even higher.

In the U.S., several doctors have noted the same problem. Dr. Jennifer Lighter, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at New York Langone Health, reports in the Clinical Infectious Diseases Journal, obese patients are two times more likely to need hospital treatment, and three times more likely to end up in intensive care.

So, although Shakespeare’s lean Cassius is more dangerous, he’d fare better in a viral pandemic. We’ve known for decades that a normal weight guards against Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart attack, and some cancers. But trying to pinpoint disadvantages of extra pounds when assessing COVID-19 is not so easy.

Professor Naveed Sattar, at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, says, “Because people are more overweight, they have a greater demand for more oxygen. So that means their system is actually undergoing greater pressure.”

Dr. Dyan Sellayah at the University of Reading adds, “Eventually the obese body becomes overwhelmed by the lack of oxygen getting to the major organs.”

Other researchers believe that fat cells may act as a reservoir, or safe zone, where the COVID-19 virus can hide. Or, that it’s simply a mechanical matter where excess fat makes it harder for the diaphragm to move decreasing oxygen supply.

Surgeons are accustomed to large masses of fat around abdominal organs, and we know this increases the risk of surgical complications. But we also know that abdominal fat is more metabolically active. This is why it’s easier to gain this type of fat, but also easier to lose it in this location.

The Lancet has recently reported that more people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities are dying of COVID-19. Dr. Sellayah believes they have a specific type of fat tissue that is more prone to inflammation. At times this can trigger an over-reaction of the immune system, called a ‘cytokine storm’, and is potentially life-threatening. But more research is needed, as others argue the disparities may be explained by socioeconomic factors.

It’s not the first time obese people have faced increased risk from viral diseases. Arya Sharma, Professor of Medicine at the University of Alberta and Scientific Director of Obesity Canada, reports that obesity was a significant risk factor in the SARS and H1N1 epidemics.

Dr. Sharma feels that obese people with COVID-19 face another problem, discrimination. This means they are less likely to seek medical treatment and wait longer for care when they do seek help. The good news for those who are overweight is that a COVID-19 infection is not always a death sentence, as many patients recover.

Shakespeare was a literary genius. But his health advice needs a rewrite. Today, our health will be the better for “a lean and hungry look”.

Sign-up at www.docgiff.com to receive our weekly e-newsletter. For comments, contact-us@docgiff.com.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

"We are looking seriously at the spread and determining what our next steps should be," says Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, as the daily number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.
427 new COVID cases is highest in Alberta ever

Central zone has 126 active cases of COVID-19

Keaton Wildeboer, of Lacombe, participates in the Westerner Championship Dairy Showcase at Westerner Park on Thursday. More than 150 cattle will be on display at the event, which continues until Saturday, carrying on a tradition started in 1954. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Western Canada’s first dairy showcase since last fall begins in Red Deer

Western Canada’s first dairy showcase since last fall is currently being held… Continue reading

Car thief opening stolen car doors. 
(Black Press File Image)
Idling vehicles attracting thieves, RCMP warns

About one-third of stolen vehicles left idling unattended

Police reveal a collection of drugs, cash and guns seized in an April 2016 bust. One of the men charged was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Thursday.
Advocate file photo
Red Deer man sentenced to 27 months for role in “dial-a-dope” operation

RCMP Priority Crimes Task Force broke up drug operation in April 2016 after four-month investigation

Red Deer RCMP say a 30-year-old man faces sexual charges against a teen. (File photo by Advocate staff)
RCMP’s downtown traffic stops lead to charges

Two traffic stops conducted by Red Deer RCMP officers on bike patrol… Continue reading

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.	Kenney is isolating at home after one of his ministers tested positive for COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Alberta premier isolating after minister tests positive for COVID-19

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is isolating at home

Seats in the waiting area of domestic departures lounge of Calgary International Airport are seen with caution tape on them on June 9, 2020. The Alberta government says rapid COVID-19 tests will soon be available at the Calgary airport and a United States border crossing so travellers coming into Canada don't have to quarantine for a full 14 days.<br style="box-sizing: inherit; color: rgb(209, 210, 211); font-family: Slack-Lato, appleLogo, sans-serif; font-size: 15px; font-style: normal; font-variant-ligatures: common-ligatures; background-color: rgb(34, 37, 41);">The pilot project is to start Nov. 2 and will be voluntary. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
COVID-19 testing option to be tried at Calgary airport, U.S. border crossing

COVID-19 testing option to be tried at Calgary airport, U.S. border crossing

FILE - In this Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, file photo, signage is pictured at a Walmart store in Oklahoma City. On Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, Walmart filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government in a pre-emptive strike in the battle over its responsibility in the opioid abuse crisis. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
Walmart sues US in pre-emptive strike in opioid abuse battle

Walmart sues US in pre-emptive strike in opioid abuse battle

FILE- In this Feb. 19, 2019, file photo, children line up to enter a tent at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children in Homestead, Fla. Despite efforts by the Trump administration to improve communication to track children who are separated from their families at the border, the process is still vulnerable to error and information sharing between agencies is inconsistent, raising questions on the accuracy of current data, a watchdog reported Thursday. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)
Judge urges US to help find parents deported without kids

Judge urges US to help find parents deported without kids

Police officers detain a protester at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos, Nigeria, Wednesday Oct. 21, 2020. After 13 days of protests against alleged police brutality, authorities have imposed a 24-hour curfew in Lagos, Nigeria's largest city, as moves are made to stop growing violence.( AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Nigerian president leaves protest shootings out of speech

Nigerian president leaves protest shootings out of speech

FILE - Audrey Strauss, acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, points to a photo of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell during a news conference, July 2, 2020, in New York. Transcripts of interviews lawyers conducted with Maxwell, the ex-girlfriend of the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, should be released as soon as possible, a judge ordered on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska said the transcripts of two days of depositions in 2016 of the British socialite and related documents along with the deposition transcript of an anonymous accuser should be released publicly as soon as is practicable. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
Epstein ex Maxwell denied getting Prince Andrew sex partners

Epstein ex Maxwell denied getting Prince Andrew sex partners

Kevin Drew, right, and Pearl Wenjack give a tribute to the late Gord Downie at the Juno Awards in Vancouver, Sunday, March, 25, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Gord Downie’s brother Patrick on the ‘peace’ he hears on new album ‘Away is Mine’

Gord Downie’s brother Patrick on the ‘peace’ he hears on new album ‘Away is Mine’

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino listens to speakers during a news conference in Ottawa on October 2, 2020. A much heralded program that would give permanent residency to some asylum seekers working on the front-lines of the COVID-19 pandemic has yet to accept a single application. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Promised path to residency for “Guardian Angel” asylum seekers yet to open

Promised path to residency for “Guardian Angel” asylum seekers yet to open

Rogers Communications CEO Joe Natale speaks to shareholders during the Rogers annual general meeting in Toronto on Friday, April 20, 2018.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Rogers says its progress in Q3 shows it’s on right track in tough environment

Rogers says its progress in Q3 shows it’s on right track in tough environment

Most Read