New Delhi: Obesity could make COVID-19 infection more severe, a new study in the medical journal The Lancet says. “[I]n populations with a high prevalence of obesity, COVID-19 will affect younger populations more than previously reported,” it says.

Common comorbidities--conditions which increase the risk in patients with COVID-19--have been hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes but as the pandemic hit the United States in late March 2020, Johns Hopkins Hospital started admitting younger patients to the intensive care unit (ICU), “many of whom were also obese”, says the study published on May 4, 2020.

India currently has the third-highest number of overweight or obese individuals among all countries--20% of its adults and 11% of adolescents can be categorised as obese, IndiaSpend reported in March 2019.

The disease has so far been known to largely infect older people. In a study of 1,591 ICU patients in Italy, the median age was found to be 63 years and only 13% patients were younger than 51 years, the study says.

Obesity as a comorbidity was found to be particularly relevant to the US where nearly 40% of the people are obese. Younger individuals admitted to hospital are more likely to be obese, the researchers found, by analysing the age and body mass index of 265 patients infected with COVID-19 admitted to the ICU in six university hospitals in the US.

Obesity impairs immune responses to viral infections and induces other comorbidities such as diabetes and hypertension, and adversely affects cardiovascular function.

The study suggests that public messaging needs to reach younger adults, the severity of symptoms required for virus testing should be reduced for obese individuals, and the at-risk obese population should be put under greater vigilance to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

(Tiwari is a principal correspondent with IndiaSpend.)