Factbox: How does being fatter increase the serious risk of COVID-19?

LONDON (Reuters) – Emerging evidence worldwide suggests that people who are overweight or obese are at increased risk of becoming more seriously ill with COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV2 coronavirus.

FILE PHOTO: A passenger awaits a delayed flight at Terminal Four at London Heathrow Airport on 12 August 2006. REUTERS / Toby Melville / File Photo

Scientists are still learning about what specific mechanisms might explain this link, but they say that some likely factors are:


– Obesity leads to the accumulation of fat in vital organs such as the heart, causing insulin resistance and high blood pressure. This means that obesity often coincides with other health conditions, such as diabetes, a weaker heart, and a liver and kidneys that are not working well.

– Excess fat can also affect the respiratory system. In other words, it can make someone out of breath and less able to carry oxygen into the blood and around the body. It is also likely to have an effect on inflammatory and immune functions.

– “Obesity puts additional pressure and metabolic stress on almost every organ system in the body,” said Susan Jebb, professor of diet and population health at Oxford University in Britain. “So perhaps it is not surprising that it also exacerbates the risk of COVID-19 complications.”


– Fat tissue, also known as adipose tissue, has high levels of an enzyme called angiotensin-converting enzyme, or ACE2, which is used by the new coronavirus to enter cells.

People with higher levels of ACE2 in the blood and other tissues are likely to be more susceptible to COVID-19 infection.

Clash of two ‘pandemics’

Francesco Rubino, an obesity expert and president of metabolic and bariatric surgery at King’s College London, calls the COVID-obesity link a “shock of two pandemics.”

“The (coronavirus) pandemic really highlights the need to combat obesity more aggressively,” he said. “One lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic is that not treating obesity is not an option.”

Report by Kate Kelland

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