Surprisingly, the risk of overweight was even greater than the risk of obesity. Overweight patients were 40 percent more likely to die than healthy weight patients, while obese patients were 30 percent more at risk compared to healthy weight patients.
The findings clearly showed an increased risk of severe Covid-19 in anyone with a BMI of 25 or higher, according to the study’s authors, Dr. Mohamed Rami Nakeshbandi, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at SUNY Downstate Health Science University, and Rohan Maini, a medical student.
But while obesity increased the risk of death for men, it wasn’t for women, they noted. (Other studies have also reported this inequality.)
The UK study examined lifestyle risk factors among 387,109 men and women, 760 of whom had Covid-19. Overweight people with the virus were about 30 percent more likely to be hospitalized than people of healthy weight; those who were obese were about twice as likely, compared to those of a healthy weight.
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The study, published in July in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, also looked at factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption and physical activity, and concluded that moderate exercise reduced the likelihood of an infected person being hospitalized.
“Physical activity with a social distance can be a good intervention,” said Mark Hamer, professor of sports and exercise medicine at University College London and author of the paper, in an email. “It provides immune protection and also aids in weight loss.”
Physical activity, which has been extensively studied, can reduce the risk of developing chronic conditions related to obesity, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. But it won’t completely eliminate the risk of decreased immune function and increased inflammation, Dr. Popkin.