78 Percent of Severe COVID Patients Have This in Common, CDC Study Finds

There's a common factor among COVID patients who have been hit the hardest.

A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, experts have amassed a huge amount of data about how the virus, which was largely unknown just 12 months ago, transmits, behaves, and affects patients who contract it. And a new study this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that the large majority of patients who end up with severe COVID cases have one thing in common: they're overweight or have been diagnosed with obesity. Read on to learn more about what the study found, and for more on concerning connections, check out The Pfizer Vaccine May Be Less Effective If You Have This Common Condition.

More than three-fourths of severe COVID patients were overweight or obese.

An infected patient in laying in bed in hospital
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For the new CDC study, which was published March 8 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the agency analyzed the cases of 148,494 adults who were diagnosed with COVID-19 during an emergency room or inpatient visit at 238 U.S. hospitals from March to Dec. 2020. Of this number, 71,491 were hospitalized, and among that cohort, 28.3 percent were overweight and 50.2 percent were obese, which means 78.5 percent of people who had been hospitalized due to COVID-19 were overweight or obese. And for another new report on the virus you need to know, check out Dr. Fauci Says Your COVID Vaccine Protects You For This Long.

One age group was particularly at risk.

Portrait of male patient in early 40s looking away from camera while lying in hospital bed wearing protective face mask and recovering from coronavirus.
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The study notes that a high body mass index (BMI) was particularly an issue for younger COVID patients, though it was still a problem for seniors, as well. "Overweight and obesity were risk factors for invasive mechanical ventilation, and obesity was a risk factor for hospitalization and death, particularly among adults aged <65 years," the report reads. "Consistent with previous studies, the dose-response relationship between risk for hospitalization or death and higher BMI was particularly pronounced among patients aged <65 years." And for more on age and COVID, find out why If You're Over 65, You Could Be Missing This COVID Symptom, Study Says.

Obesity has been a growing problem for older women in particular.

Woman getting measured by doctor
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The CDC reports that currently, obesity affects 42.4 percent of U.S. adults. The agency added that "the prevalence of adult BMI greater than or equal to 30 kg/m2 (obese status) has greatly increased since the 1970s. Recently, however, this trend has leveled off, except for older women. Obesity has continued to increase in adult women who are age 60 years and older."

They also warn that even before COVID struck, obesity was elevating the risk of a whole host of conditions like hypertension, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, some cancers, and sleep apnea. And for more health news delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Here's how to know if you fall into one of these high risk categories.

Man weighing himself on scale
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According to the CDC, your BMI is calculated by your weight in kilograms divided by the square of your height in meters. A BMI of 25 or more is defined as overweight, while 30 or more is defined as obese. Of course, most Americans know their weight in pounds and their height in inches, but the CDC has an online BMI calculator that allows anyone to make a quick calculation.

The agency's new study concludes that in keeping the public healthy at this dangerous time, we don't just need to be thinking about obvious measures like hand-washing, but supporting entire lifestyle changes: "These findings highlight… the need for intensive management of COVID-19–associated illness, continued vaccine prioritization and masking, and policies to support healthy behaviors," the authors conclude. And for more on the latest in the pandemic, check out This Is How High the COVID Risk Level Is in Your State, Data Shows.

John Quinn
John Quinn is a London-based writer and editor who specializes in lifestyle topics. Read more
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