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CDC expands COVID risk warning to include overweight people

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta. (Dreamstime/TNS)
October 10, 2020

The link between extra pounds and severe COVID-19 grew stronger as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that people who are merely overweight, not just the obese, may be at high risk of serious disease from the infection.

The warning, posted on the agency’s website Tuesday, means about two-thirds of Americans could face higher risks.

Nearly 40% of American adults are obese, which the CDC tied to poor outcomes of the infection in late June, and about 32% are overweight, according to the agency. Obese people are more likely to fall very ill with COVID-19 and be hospitalized, and the risk of death from infection increases along with higher body mass index, the CDC has said.

Doctors determine whether people are obese or overweight with a calculation of height and weight aimed at estimating body fat called body mass index. Overweight people have a body mass index of 25 to 30. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index of 30 or higher.

For example, a man who is 5 feet 11 inches and weighs 200 pounds would be considered overweight. Add in 25 pounds, and he would be considered obese.

President Donald Trump, who said last week he had been diagnosed with COVID-19, measures at about 30.5.

Trump was hospitalized and treated with drugs including the anti-inflammatory dexamethasone, Gilead Sciences Inc.’s antiviral remdesivir, and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s experimental antibody cocktail. His physician recently said the president was on the rebound and symptom-free.

Metabolic changes tied to excess weight reduce the immune system’s ability to fight disease, which likely plays a role when it comes to coronavirus outcomes, said Barry Popkin, a nutrition professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Physical factors that sometimes occur with obesity, like reduced lung capacity and sleep apnea, could also be important, he said.

An August review of 75 studies with data on COVID-19 and BMI co-authored by Popkin found a strong relationship between those who were overweight and obese and the risks of hospitalization and needing ICU treatment. The paper also raised questions about whether vaccines in development for the coronavirus could, like the flu shot, be less effective in those populations.


© 2020 Bloomberg News

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