Covid-19 Part 6:
Obesity: Our awful health has made Covid-19 far worse

Obesity may be why UK and USA are so badly affected

Breathing and respiratory problems have typically been associated with increasing the risk of getting a severe Covid-19 infection. However, obesity has emerged as possibly the second biggest risk factor behind age for developing severe Covid-19 symptoms, especially in those under 65.

Research from the USA found that it poses a greater danger than having lung disease, asthma or high blood pressure, and that having BMI of over 35 means you are 3.6 times more likely to be transferred to ICU than those under 30.

Another study found obesity to be the most common underlying health problem in hospitalised Covid-19 patients under 65, accounting for 60% of cases in the age group 18-49 who had a health problem, compared to 27% for asthma. 

Complications arise when you think about how obesity and age are linked together, and with other underlying health problems. Like all problems, our current situation is multi-variate, which means there are many factors interacting with one another which can influence Covid-19 severity. For example obesity increases the likelihood of developing problems such as diabetes and heart disease, to name just two. It is also more likely that you will have health problems as you get older. 

Fat cells could be the answer

New research has tried to answer the question of ‘Why?’ when addressing the obesity and Covid-19 severity link. It found that proteins used by Covid-19 to infiltrate human cells are created in large amounts by fat cells in the human body, and in those cells of people with Type-2 Diabetes. The coronavirus latches easily onto ‘ACE-2 receptors’ that are ‘widely expressed’ by fat cells compared to normal ones, giving it an entry into the body, and creating ‘resevoirs’ for the virus. The researchers also explained how fat cells could help production of a special type of cells which can cause lung tissue scarring, a process which increases with age. 

They stressed the importance of researching whether drugs taken by diabetics could be used to dampen this scarring effect, even though they acknowledged that the drugs themselves could cause weight gain as a side effect. They concluded that as an alternative to medicine, that weight loss could also help. Who would have thought, eh?!

Other reasons for the obesity link have been discussed, such as how a large amount of excess weight can cause breathing difficulties, and how obese people are more likely to have a stronger inflammatory response. However, problems arise when you consider the large amount of other health problems brought on by obesity, such as heart disease, diabetes and asthma. 

Is this why countries like the UK and USA have been hit hard?

Around 30% of adults in England are clinically obese, judged by having a BMI over 30. This While there are problems with the BMI system, this is such a staggering amount it makes my eyes water thinking about it. Moreover, 65% of the general population are classed as overweight. NHS figures show that 75% of people in hospital with Covid-19 are overweight, which was what led to the scrutiny of weight issues as a major factor in infection severity. 

An analysis of over 28,000 UK hospitalised cases shows that obese patients are 43% more likely to die. Further research found that diabetic patients make up one third of total deaths in hospital from coronavirus. The overwhelming majority of these are ‘Type 2’, where obesity is a very common pre-cursor. 

It makes for even harder reading in America, where over 42% of people are thought to be obese, which equates to up to 140 million people; a number which is over two times the total population of the UK. The overweight percentage will be even higher. 

Comparing the UK to Germany

The UK and Germany both entered lockdown on March 23 but the UK has seen four times as many deaths, a figure said to be over 37,000, compared to Germany which has recorded around 8,200. Despite other factors being involved, the distinct difference in health is  thought to play an integral role. Compared to the UK’s 30%, just 24% of Germans are obese. 

While we have been panicking about the novel coronavirus for the past 4 months, many have been unaware that for decades an obesity epidemic has been sweeping the western world, causing billions of pounds of strain on health systems, millions of deaths, and debilitating health problems for millions more. In 2019, the head of the NHS warned that obesity was such a severe problem it could halt advances in the medical sphere for years. Therefore, if we were healthier as nations, it’s likely the death toll would have been much reduced. However, I predict that public discussions around the subject will be shut down due to it not being a politically correct subject; the sadness and absurdity of this I will discuss later in the review. 


What do you think? Read the next installment in the Covid-19 Review here! It explains that it is ‘extra’ deaths which we should be looking for, and asks how many of those attributed to Covid-19 would have happened anyway?

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