Morbid Obesity Increases Risk of COVID-19 and Future Emerging Infectious Diseases –

Posted: August 28, 2020 at 9:56 am Interview with:

Lisa Pawloski PhDAssociate Dean for International ProgramsProfessor of AnthropologyCollege of Arts and SciencesThe University of AlabamaTuscaloosa, AL 35487 What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: This exploratory research uses the currently available data on COVID-19 cases and mortality, along with estimates of the morbidly obese populations in the United States by county to examine the association between morbid obesity and deaths from COVID-19 and to identify potential coincident spatial clusters of morbid obesity and COVID-19 deaths. Results indicate statistically significant positive correlation between population adjusted COVID-19 deaths and cases and the estimated population with a BMI>=40. Clustering analyses show there is a predominant similarity in the distribution of COVID-19 deaths and obesity.

Our findings suggest it is critical to include an awareness of obesity when developing infectious disease control measures and point to a greater need to focus resources towards obesity education and policy initiatives. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Overall, this study confirms initial findings of the relationship between morbid obesity and COVID-19 cases and deaths reported at hospitals as well as anecdotally; such that it empirically presents this relationship using large scale population data, namely NHANES and census tract data.

These findings have implications for understanding where to implement and prioritize mitigation strategies for COVID-19 as well as the importance of continuing public health obesity prevention and reductions programs at the local, state, and national levels.

As we have noted that obesity aggravates symptoms among other similar respiratory viruses, it is critical to note that obesity should be considered as a risk factor not only for COVID-19, but for future similar emerging infectious diseases. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: As a global pandemic, it would be important to understand this same relationships on a global level. As the U.S. has one of the highest obesity rates in the world, and currently has the highest numbers of cases and deaths from COVID-19, it would be interesting to explore these relationships in other countries. Further, as we recognize that obesity is impacted by many social determinants, it would be important to understand the degree that such determinants such as socioeconomic status, race, health status, and age have on case and death numbers related to COVID-19, here in the U.S. as well as globally. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: These data were analyzed in April, so we plan to conduct additional analyses as many more cases and deaths have occur to see if this pattern remains consistent. Further, we want to explore the relationship with overweight as well as obesity as the CDC recently changed the risk guidelines from a BMI greater than 40 (morbid obesity) to a BMI greater than 30 (obesity).


Kevin M. Curtin, Lisa R. Pawloski, Penelope Mitchell, Jillian Dunbar.COVID19 and Morbid Obesity: Associations and Consequences for Policy and Practice.World Medical & Health Policy, 2020; DOI:10.1002/wmh3.361

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Morbid Obesity Increases Risk of COVID-19 and Future Emerging Infectious Diseases -

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