This common health problem linked to higher COVID-19 complications

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In a new review study, researchers found a troubling connection between two health crises: coronavirus and obesity.

They found from COVID-19 risk to recovery, the odds are stacked against those with obesity.

The study raises concerns about the impact of obesity on the effectiveness of a future COVID-19 vaccine.

The research was conducted by a team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The team examined the available published studies on individuals infected with the virus and found that those with obesity (BMI over 30) were at a greatly increased risk for hospitalization (113%), more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit (74%), and had a higher risk of death (48%) from the virus.

They reviewed immunological and biomedical data to provide a detailed layout of the mechanisms and pathways that link obesity with increased risk of COVID-19 as well as an increased likelihood of developing more severe complications from the virus.

Obesity is already linked to many underlying risk factors for COVID-19, including hypertension, heart disease type 2 diabetes, and chronic kidney and liver disease.

Metabolic changes caused by obesity—such as insulin resistance and inflammation—making it difficult for individuals with obesity to fight some infections, a trend that can be seen in other infectious diseases, such as influenza and hepatitis.

During times of infection, uncontrolled serum glucose, which is common in individuals with hyperglycemia, can impair immune cell function.

The team says all of these factors can influence immune cell metabolism, which determines how bodies respond to pathogens, like the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

People with obesity are also more likely to experience physical ailments that make fighting this disease harder, such as sleep apnea, which increases pulmonary hypertension, or a body mass index that increases difficulties in a hospital setting with intubation.

Roughly 40% of Americans are obese and the pandemic’s resulting lockdown has led to a number of conditions that make it harder for individuals to achieve or sustain a healthy weight.

Working from home, limiting social visits, and a reduction in everyday activities—all in an effort to stop the spread of the virus—means people are moving less than ever.

The ability to access healthy foods has also taken a hit.

Economic hardships put those who are already food insecure at further risk, making them more vulnerable to conditions that can arise from consuming unhealthy foods.

The team says governments must address the underlying dietary contributors to obesity and implement strong public health policies proven to reduce obesity at a population level.

One author of the study is Barry Popkin, a professor in the Department of Nutrition.

The study is published in Obesity Reviews.

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