This Condition Makes Coronavirus Especially Risky if You're Young

New study says obesity may be driving factor in severe cases of COVID-19 in younger patients.

Throughout the pandemic, research has named obesity as one of the pre-existing conditions that put people—particularly the elderly—at greater risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19. And while being overweight remains a major risk factor, a new study says it may be a much bigger one in young people than medical experts had previously believed.

Discussing the findings of a recent study he co-led that were published in The Lancet, cardiologist David Kass, a professor of medicine who heads the Institute of CardioScience at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said: "In populations with a high prevalence of obesity, COVID-19 will affect younger populations more than previously reported."

Using a data set of 265 patients from six different hospitals, Kass and his colleagues said they found "a significant inverse correlation between age and BMI, in which younger individuals admitted to hospital were more likely to be obese." Prior to these findings, being overweight was primarily considered a bigger risk for older individuals because of the higher mortality rates among that particular demographic. However, according to Kass, those numbers might have been misleading due to other life-threatening conditions associated with obesity not having the time to develop in younger patients.

"The reason the co-morbidities aren't showing up in younger patients—let's say under 40 or 50 years old—is that the cardiac, vascular, and metabolic risks linked to obesity may not have had enough time to develop in a concrete way," Kass said in an interview about the findings published on John Hopkins' the Hub. "You'll find that COVID-19 patients who are younger are unlikely to have heart disease or a prior stroke, and many are not yet diabetic. So we need to be paying attention to obesity as a major risk on its own."

The study also noted this should be of particular concern for younger individuals in the United States, as the prevalence of obesity is much higher in this country than it is in others—40 percent in the U.S., compared with 6.2 percent in China, 20 percent in Italy, and 24 percent in Spain.

When asked to summarize the biggest takeaway provided by the the findings, Kass stressed that being young and overweight is cause for concern when it comes to the coronavirus.

"I think the message is that you need to treat obesity seriously as a pre-existing condition that increases your risks for COVID-19," he said. "Maybe you didn't consider that because you're young, and thought of this as an old person thing. But no—if you're obese and you're 25, or 35, or 45, you have a risk factor and you should be appropriately careful." And to learn how you can reduce your chances of severe symptoms, check out Doing This One Thing at Home Greatly Reduces Your Coronavirus Risk.

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