Americans who are overweight or obese make up more than 73 percent of those who die of the virus, new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data reveal.
People who were obese made up nearly half of all fatalities among hospitalized coronavirus patients logged in the new report.
Those figures align with the overall rates of unhealthy weights in the US. About 74 percent of Americans are overweight, including nearly 43 percent who are obese.
It comes after a World Health Organization (WHO) report revealed that 90 percent of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in countries where half the population is obese, and yet another study showed that two-thirds of hospitalizations for coronavirus were attributable one of four conditions, including obesity.
Obese people are now eligible to get COVID-19 vaccines in many states where access has been expanded to allow people with chronic conditions to get their shots.
But the mounting data suggests that if Americans had healthier diets and habits, the US might not have had the highest COVID-19 death toll in the world.
As BMI increased, so did the odds of hospitalization, needing care in an ICU, being put on a ventilator or death from COVID-19 at any age, according to the CDC report
The odds that a hospitalized COVID-19 patient would die of the virus increased to nearly two-to-one, compared to an average person, for people with a BMI of 45 or higher (bottom)
The CDC report analyzed data on 3.24 million Americans who visited hospitals between March and December 2020.
Nearly 150,000 of them – about 4.5 percent – tested positive for COVID-19.
About half of those patients (71,491) had to be hospitalized and just shy of 35,000 required ICU care.
In total 8,348 of those who were hospitalized for COVID-19 died.
That means that about 5.6 percent of people who tested positive for the virus ultimately died of it.
But the rates were much higher among certain groups.
As found by the WHO report last week, obesity was the second most significant predictor of who would be hospitalized or die of coronavirus, behind only old age.
Nearly half of those who died of COVID-19 after being hospitalized for the virus – 49 percent – were 75 or older did not survive the infection.
People who were obese made up only a slightly smaller share of the fatalities, at 46 percent.
Obese Americans were twice as likely to die of the virus as people with health weights, who accounted for 23.4 percent of coronavirus deaths.
Risks were slightly elevated for people where were overweight. Americans with BMIs between 25 and 29.9 accounted for 27.3 percent of fatalities.
And people who were morbidly obese – with a BMI of 45 or higher – were about 1.5 times more likely to die of the virus compared to the average person.
Whether or not they survived, morbidly obese people were also at far greater risk – by about two-fold – of having to be kept alive by a mechanical ventilator.
Mechanical ventilation may be life saving, but survival odds plummet once a COVID-19 patient is sick enough to need this kind of life support.
Two thirds of COVID-19 hospitalizations were ‘attributable’ to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes or heart failure, meaning they likely could have been avoided if the patients hadn’t had these preventable conditions, the Tufts University study estimates
And ventilators introduce their own risks, including the potential for brain damage for those who spend too long on the machines.
We now know that inflammation caused by the immune system going haywire in off-target attempts to fight coronavirus is often what ultimately overwhelms COVID-19 patients and kills them.
Being overweight or obese means existing at a higher baseline level of inflammation, so the effects of the virus are compounded.
Obesity is also thought to contribute to the higher COVID-19 death rates among black and Hispanic patients.
About 50 percent of black adults and 45 percent of Hispanic people in the US are obese, and are far more likely than white people to work essential jobs that force them to risk exposure to COVID-19.
They’re also more likely to live in food deserts, where access to healthy produce is limited while cheap fast food or processed foods are everywhere.
‘These results highlight the need to promote and support a healthy BMI, which might be especially important for populations disproportionately affected by obesity, particularly Hispanic or Latino and non-Hispanic black adults and persons from low-income households, which are populations who have a higher prevalence of obesity and are more likely to have worse outcomes from COVID-19 compared with other populations,’ the CDC authors wrote.
Although America has the highest COVID-19 death toll of any country in the world, and one of the world’s highest rates of obesity, the link between overweight populations and coronavirus deaths is not unique to the US.
Source: Covid-19 deaths from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus pandemic tracker and World Health Organization (WHO) Global Health Observatory adult overweight estimates
Research by the World Obesity Federation found Covid deaths have been 10 times higher in countries where over half of adults are overweight, and they have accounted for a staggering 90 per cent of global deaths.
So far almost 518,500 Americans have died from the virus, which is the highest death toll of any nation and double the number of victims in second worst-hit Brazil. The US has the eighth worst Covid death rate globally when the size of its population is factored in, with 152.5 victims per 100,000 people.
It is also home to the highest percentage of overweight people, according to the WOF, with more than two-thirds (67.9 per cent) of adults having a body mass index (BMI) above 25. A healthy range is between 18 and 24 and people with a BMI of over 30 are considered obese. More than 70 million Americans are obese.
Many US states have included obesity in their lists of chronic conditions that make people eligible for earlier access to Covid vaccines, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended.
But vaccines come too late for thousands of Americans who struggled with obesity and died of COVID-19.
Thousands of lives might have been saved if the population was slimmer, experts said, and lockdown measures may not have needed to be as drastic if fewer people were overweight or obese and had a lower risk of ending up in hospital.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned the finding was a ‘wake-up call’ for the West, where sedentary jobs and processed foods mean being overweight has become the norm for the majority of adults.
The report, which compared countries’ obesity rates and Covid death tolls, found that the Covid death rate was 10 times higher in countries where 50 per cent or more of the population is overweight.
It saw that 2.2million of the world’s 2.5million deaths so far had happened in countries with these high obesity rates.
‘Increased body weight is the second greatest predictor of hospitalization and a high risk of death for people suffering from Covid-19,’ the report said.
Only old age rates as a higher risk factor. The unprecedented economic costs of Covid-19 are largely due to the measures taken to avoid the excess hospitalization and need for treatment of the disease.
‘Reducing one major risk factor, overweight, would have resulted in far less stress on health services and reduced the need to protect those services from being overwhelmed.’
It’s not the first signal that obesity has been a major driver of the toll COVID-19 has taken on the US.
A recent Tufts University study estimated that about two thirds of US COVID-19 hospitalizations were attributable to four chronic conditions: obesity, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.
Obesity raises risks of the other three conditions as well, and complications from all three can be lessened with healthy diets and exercise.
‘We know that changes in diet quality alone, even without weight loss, rapidly improve metabolic health within just six to eight weeks. It’s crucial to test such lifestyle approaches for reducing severe COVID-19 infections, both for this pandemic and future pandemics likely to come,’ said Dr Dariush Mozaffarian, lead author and dean of the Friedman School at Tufts.
And countries where healthy lifestyles are more common – and where governments have prioritized initiatives to encourage them – have fared better against COVID-19.
Data from the John Hopkins University on Covid deaths and the WHO’s Global Health Observatory adult overweight estimates shows that the UK had the third highest coronavirus death rate per person – at 182 per 100,000 people, lower only than Slovenia (183) and Belgium (192) – and the fourth highest overweight rate, at 64 percent.