Coronavirus health warning: Obesity bigger risk than heart disease or diabetes

It follows research showing obesity is a bigger risk factor for deadly complications of Covid-19 than heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes put together in the under-50s. At present those shielded include over-70s, people on immune suppressing drugs and with lung diseases. They also include people who have previously suffered from cancer – but this group does not so far appear to be at more risk. The public health focus has so far concentrated on protective measures from isolation and hand washing to healthy eating and exercise.

Dr Rajarshi Banerjee, from Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, believes obese people may be more at risk because their internal organs are damaged due to inflammation caused by fatty deposits.

He has launched a study into patient recovery from Covid-19 to identify risk factors of the virus.

Dr Banerjee said: “Studies like these should inform our thinking as to who needs cocooning or shielding such as obese patients who have unseen and silent internal damage to their organs, such as liver and kidneys, putting them more at risk of complications.

“Research into this will likely be a key to understanding who are most at risk and perhaps the treatments that can help. Also it will help us decide if we isolate obese patients or those with fatty liver disease for longer.

“This plague of our times targets obesity and this is linked with inflammation in the liver and fatty liver disease which is more of a hidden problem affecting 20 per cent of the UK population.”

Dr Banerjee’s study, which begins next week, will be carried out by Perspectum, an Oxford-based healthcare and diagnostics company together with data from the UK genetic health resource UK Biobank to determine how much damage Covid-19 causes to patients’ internal organs with particular focus on obese patients.

A new study from the US Center for Disease Control based on 99 counties and 14 states from March examined the underlying conditions of patients hospitalised with the virus to determine which risk factors led to the most severe disease.

These included heart disease, diabetes, chronic lung disease, obesity and high blood pressure. For those over 65 the biggest predictor of being hospitalised was high blood pressure, accounting for over 70 per cent, with heart disease accounting for half.

About 60 per cent of hospital cases under the age of 50 were obese, compared with 18 per cent with high blood pressure, 19 per cent with diabetes and four per cent with cardiovascular disease.

Obesity accounted for 50 per cent of hospitalisations in those aged 50-64 and 40 per cent in those aged over 65.

Studies from the UK, US and Italy suggest hospitalisation rates for Covid-19 may escalate far more than in China because patients with fatty liver disease – associated with bad diet and excess weight – are at a much higher than average risk of complications of the virus. Research shows they also remain infectious for longer – 17 days rather than 12 days in patients without liver disease.

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