Why being overweight could put you at more risk of severe coronavirus symptoms

Obesity in the UK affects around one in every four adults (Photo: Shutterstock)

As coronavirus is a new disease, scientists are still discovering new information about how it affects the body.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

While people aged 70 and over, along with those with an underlying health condition, are considered the most vulnerable to the virus, obesity is now thought to be one of the biggest risk factors in developing severe coronavirus symptoms.

How does weight affect coronavirus?

People who are obese could be at greater risk of severe complications if they develop coronavirus, than those who have high blood pressure lung disease or asthma, scientists have claimed.

A study conducted by the Coronavirus Clinical Characterisation Consortium found that almost 75 per cent of coronavirus patients in intensive care are overweight, while people of a healthy weight only make up a minority.

Researchers analysed 17,000 coronavirus admissions and found that death rates were 37 per cent higher among obese patients.

The death rates were second only to patients with dementia, which had a death rate of 39 per cent, but were found to be higher than those with heart disease, at 31 per cent.

According to NHS data, obesity raises the risk of dying from coronavirus in hospital by almost 40 per cent.

As a result of recent findings, SAGE, the scientific group advising the government, is now investigating the relationship between obesity and the coronavirus to decide on how to advise the public.

Why is obesity a risk factor?

While research is still ongoing, scientists have suggested the increased risk could be due to obese people having reduced lung function and more inflammation of the fatty tissue around internal organs.

Fat cells could also restrict the availability of vital immune cells to around the body to fight off the virus.

Alternatively, obesity may cause the body’s immune response to go into overdrive, known as a cytokine storm, which is thought to play a significant role in coronavirus deaths.

Most patients with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 and higher suffer from breathing difficulties, with excess weight making it more difficult for the diaphragm and lungs to expand and inhale oxygen.

When starved of oxygen, organs will then begin to fail, which could explain why people who are obese could suffer more severe symptoms if they contract coronavirus, compared to someone of a healthy weight.

What is considered obese and how do I calculate my BMI?

A BMI between 30 and 39.9 is considered obese, while a BMI over 40 is classed as morbidly obese, according to the NHS.

The higher a person’s BMI, the greater their risk of developing additional health problems.

A healthy weight is considered to be a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9.

Obesity in the UK is a common problem and is estimated to affect around one in every four adults, and one in every five children aged 10 to 11.

BMI is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in metres.

Alternatively, the NHS has an online calculator to check if you are a healthy weight.

How can I reduce the risk of obesity?

The NHS recommends eating a healthy, reduced-calorie diet to reduce the risk of obesity, coupled with regular exercise.

Activities such as fast walking, jogging, swimming and tennis are advised, and should be undertaken between 2.5 to five hours per week.