The spread of coronavirus remains a priority for public health officials in the UK.
Social distancing dominates our everyday lives while experts continue to closely monitor the affect of the virus, also known as Covid-19, on the population.
Many are concerned about the impact of the respiratory illness, following reports that some patients have suffered serious health problems as a result of contracting coronavirus.
Earlier this month, we shared the NHS view on the risk of such in relation to those who regularly smoke or use vape products, following reports of an increased risk for these individuals.
There’s also believed to be a higher risk of mortality and serious illness for the elderly and those with autoimmune diseases – who are currently being asked to shield themselves.
Some recent studies however suggest that there is perhaps another demographic who have an increased risk of requiring intensive care unit support, for example; those who are overweight or obese.
The NHS website makes reference to the connection between weight and coronavirus risks, reminding that patients with certain conditions or characteristics can become seriously ill as a result of catching the virus.
It categorises individuals into either “high risk” or “very high risk” groups, with the latter including those with severe lung conditions and some cancer patients.
Those considered at high risk, but not as much as those listed above, are typically the over 70s, expectant mothers and individuals who suffer with diabetes – all of whom are encouraged to stay inside their homes unless it’s essential.
This group also includes patients who “are very obese” though, with this weight defined by the NHS as someone who has a body mass index (BMI) of over 40.
BMI, for those aren’t familiar with the term, is a measurement that uses height and weight to work out if an individual is of a healthy size – with the NHS offering free BMI calculatorservices.
Typically, the BMI result assigned to each category is as follows:
- Under 18.5 is considered ‘underweight’
- 18.5 to 24.9 suggests a ‘healthy weight’
- 25 to 29.9 is generally deemed ‘overweight’
- 30 to 39.9 refers to someone being ‘obese’
- 40 and over is considered ‘very obese’ / ‘morbidly obese’
The NHS stance on obesity and coronavirus is supported by the other leading health institutions, such the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US.
The CDC similarly states that a BMI of over 40 “puts people at higher risk for complications” from Covid-19, recommending those in this demographic to continue taking prescribed medications for any underlying health conditions.
Having a weight above what is considered heavy generally increases the chance of underlying conditions – and it is these health issues which then influence the risk of severe illness from coronavirus.
It means that not everyone who has a BMI over 30, for example, will suffer from coronavirus complications – but there is a higher risk associated with them, then someone whose BMI is 25.
In recent years though, officials have suggested that whilst the majority of the public aren’t obese in the UK, they aren’t necessarily fit and healthy.
Research has shown that the average BMI of an adult here is around 28 – which is near the end of the ‘overweight’ category.
So what about the risk of coronavirus complications for the average person, who may not be obese, but is carrying a few extra pounds?
Well studies have suggested that it’s not just those who are considered morbidly obese that have an increased risk.
© PA Children in all six counties of North Wales are above the national average for obesity
According to a recent French study, for example, even a BMI of around 30 significantly influences the likelihood of developing complications from coronavirus.
Researchers analysed the BMI of 124 patients admitted to a particular intensive care facility for the virus, publishing their results earlier this month.
They reported that obesity, which they considered a BMI of over 30, was found in 47.6 per cent of cases, with severe obesity, a BMI of over 35, identified in 28.2 per cent of cases.
Therefore, according to the researchers, over 75 per cent of admissions to the intensive care facility had a BMI of at least 30.
They also noted that the higher the BMI, the more likely the patient was to require invasive mechanical ventilation (IMV), concluding that “disease severity increased with BMI.”
This BMI isn’t actually much higher than that of the average person in the UK, so many of us may unknowingly be putting ourselves at greater risk due to our weight.
Similarly, as reported by the Express, a recent report by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) found that almost three quarters of people who are severely affected by coronavirus are either overweight or obese.
Some experts have however responded to such research by suggesting that the situation is perhaps more complex than someone’s weight simply being the cause of increased risk.
In a statement to the Science Media Centre, Professor Duncan Young, Professor of Intensive Care Medicine at the University of Oxford, said that the current evidence does not suggest obesity is necessarily linked to severe infection requiring an ICU admission.
He explained: “It is well known that for ICU admissions overall extremes of body mass index (BMI) are associated with worse outcomes, so whether this is a Covid-19 effect is hard to say.”
And in an opinion piece for Wired last week though, registered dietitian nutrionist Christy Harrison also offered some criticism.
Amongst the issues she raised was the suggestion that some recent studies are flawed simply because of the way obesity is viewed by healthcare professionals.
She said: “Clinician’s biases and beliefs about body size are likely to be influencing Covid-19 care decisions for higher-weight people.”
For example, those with a high BMI may be more likely to get hospitalised “simply because they’re viewed as unhealthy and deemed higher-risk patients” by doctors.
North Wales Live contacted Public Health Wales, an NHS body, to find out whether those who are just overweight – but not obese – should be concerned about their potential increased risk.
A Public Health Wales spokesperson said: “Data around obesity is not being collected at this time.
“We are aware that there may be an increased risk to those who are obese, but that risk has not been fully quantified.
“Our advice is for all members of the public to follow the general COVID-19 advice which can be found on the Public Health Wales website.”