Patients with severe obesity are at higher risk of COVID hospitalizations and deaths, reports CDC

Two EMTs return to their ambulance with their stretcher after dropping off a patient at Elmhurst Hospital Center in the Queens borough of New York City, NY, February 21, 2021. Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA

Severe obesity is now one of the high risk conditions that qualify Californians for the coronavirus vaccine. A new study published by the Centers for Disease Control this month found that patients with severe obesity were 33% more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 complications. They were also 60% more likely to die from the virus — compared to people at a healthy weight. 

In the U.S., more than 40% of adults are considered obese, and more than 70% of adults are overweight. Those rates are increasing

Dr. Isabel Pedraza directs the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Cedars-Sinai in LA. She says patients who ended up there tended to be obese. 

“Around half of them at least were obese. … When they landed in the ICU, they tended to develop more severe and prolonged disease and needed to be placed on life support more often. So really, the CDC is sort of mirroring or verifying what we've been seeing now for the past year.”

Why does obesity make COVID more serious? She says that’s being actively studied right now. 

“There are a lot of theories out there for other diseases. … Obesity increases the severity of asthma because it's an inflammatory condition, much like COVID. One of the postulations is that a lot of the inflammatory chemicals are made in utilizing fat, and that perhaps having more fat available makes it easier to form more inflammation. … That's still an area that's being actively investigated.” 

According to the CDC’s new guidelines for getting a COVID-19 vaccine, if you have obesity, your Body Mass Index must be greater than 40. 

“A BMI of 40 is really in morbid obesity range. And definitely, we've seen patients below that have severe disease. So I’d love everybody to get a vaccine. But definitely, I think a BMI over 30 is going to increase your risk. … The higher your BMI, the higher your risk of developing severe disease, and the higher the risk of needing Intensive Care Unit management and increase in risk of death,” Pedraza says.

Credits

Guest:
Isabel Pedraza - MD, Director of Medical Intensive Care Unit and Post-COVID ICU Recovery Program at Cedars-Sinai

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Angie Perrin, Michell Eloy, Amy Ta, Rosalie Atkinson, Brian Hardzinski, Bennett Purser