If you’re obese, you’re far more likely to have long-lasting health issues if you get COVID-19 and survive, a new study warns.
You are more likely than patients who aren’t obese to be hospitalized. You’re more likely wind up in the intensive care unit, need to be put on a ventilator and suffer from long-haul COVID than patients who aren’t obese, researchers reported.
“About 40% of COVID-19 survivors may experience chronic complications of COVID-19, and the risk of having these complications is about 30% higher in patients with obesity,” said lead researcher Dr. Ali Aminian, director of the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.
These striking figures are yet another reason why everyone — especially people who are obese — should get vaccinated against COVID-19, Aminian said.
For the study, his team collected data on more than 2,800 patients treated for COVID at the Cleveland Clinic between March and July 2020. Patients were followed through late January of this year.
During follow-up, 44% of patients had to be hospitalized and 1% died.
Compared with other patients, the risk of hospitalization was 28% to 30% higher in patients with moderate and severe obesity, the study found. Their need for tests for other medical problems was also 25% to 39% higher.
In particular, the need for diagnostic tests for diseases of the heart, lungs, blood vessels, kidneys and gastrointestinal system and for mental health problems was much higher, the study showed.
These findings suggest that those with a BMI (body mass index, a measure of body fat based on height and weight) of 35 or more are at greatest risk of long-haul COVID, compared to those with a normal BMI.
“Patients with obesity need to be informed about their excess risk of COVID-19, both in the acute phase and in the chronic phase of the disease,” Aminian said.
He urged all patients to follow public health recommendations and get vaccinated to reduce their risk.
“Furthermore, a long-term and rigorous follow-up of patients with obesity who contracted COVID-19 is necessary to address chronic consequences of the disease,” Aminian said.
Dr. David Katz is president of the True Health Initiative, a group that promotes healthy living. He noted that obesity and its related heart problems are consistent predictors of poor COVID-19 outcomes.
“This analysis points to the higher risk of long-haul COVID-19,” said Katz, who wasn’t part of the study.
Some of the likely reasons include increased inflammation, endocrine disturbances and mechanical effects of obesity that can impair respiration and repositioning, he said.
The new study also calls for investigation of other factors that may contribute to variations in COVID outcomes. These include patients’ economic status, their diets and access to nutritious foods, as well as their access to medical care, Katz said.
He noted that the findings show the consequence that obesity has on overall health and on a person stressed by a deadly, infectious disease.
“This analysis highlights the importance of a pandemic that was here long before SARS-CoV-2, and that will be here after — the obesity pandemic,” Katz said. “With or without COVID, this pandemic that hides in plain sight siphons years from lives, and life from years, and calls out for our collective action.”
The findings were recently published online in the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about obesity and COVID-19.
SOURCES: Ali Aminian, MD, director, Bariatric and Metabolic Institute, Cleveland Clinic, Ohio; David Katz, MD, MPH, president, True Health Initiative, Tulsa, Okla.; Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, June 3, 2021, online