Coronavirus Chronicles — Obesity and Virus Relationship Under Observation

Sure, COVID-19 invades the lungs, and some patients need to be on ventilators. Then, it turns out to be about weird stuff like metabolic syndrome, and having diabetes is extra hazardous.

Camilla Cavendish, senior fellow at Harvard University, wrote:

A recent commentary in the journal Nature stated that “patients with type-2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome might have up to 10 times greater risk of death when they contract Covid-19”.

In terms of its proclivities, this disease is all over the place. Being old is more dangerous, or maybe being young is worse. Youth has a lot to do with it, and so does obesity. When both those factors are in the picture, things really become interesting. Every day, science learns more about the virus’s affinity for obese victims.

In Italy, a study of 1,591 intensive care patients showed their median age was 63, and only 13% of those patients were younger than 51 — which is still a pretty advanced age. But that was Italy, where only 20% of the adults are obese. As it turns out, the USA is different.

In this country, about 40% of adults are obese, and researchers who studied records from the intensive care units at Johns Hopkins and five other American university hospitals were shocked to find “significant inverse correlation between age and BMI, in which younger individuals admitted to hospital were more likely to be obese.”

Obesity prevents the immune system from responding vigorously to an invading virus. Obesity “is pro-inflammatory, and induces diabetes and oxidant stress to adversely affect cardiovascular function.” If the patient needs a mechanical ventilator, their fat fights against the machine by impeding the diaphragm’s freedom of motion.

Cavendish, who also is an adviser to the United Kingdom’s government, wrote,

In France, the US and UK, figures suggest that patients who are overweight are at significantly greater risk…

In New York City, a study of 4,000 Covid-19 patients found that obesity is the second strongest predictor, after their age, of whether someone over 60 will need critical care…

A second New York study says that being overweight is the main driver of whether younger people will be hospitalized with Covid-19.

Cavendish also pointed out a historical precedent that perhaps should have been noticed sooner:

In 2009, 51 per cent of Californians who died from the H1N1 Influenza A were obese: this was 2.2 times more than the prevalence of obesity in the state population.

US Right to Know is a not-for-profit food industry research group. Speaking for it, public interest researcher Carey Gillam wrote that food quality, access, marketing, and choices have more than ever become matters of life and death. The obese are at higher risk for severe illness, and obese young people are at particular risk. That is no small matter in a nation where more than two-thirds of adults and nearly one-third of children and youth are obese.

Add the fact that in the United States, a disproportionate number of African-Americans and other people of color are obese, and that means members of minority groups are disproportionately at risk of dying from the virus.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Obesity dangers make Covid-19 a rebuke to unequal societies,”, 0/01/20
Source: “Obesity could shift severe COVID-19 disease to younger ages,”, 05/04/20
Source: “What does junk food have to do with COVID-19 deaths?,”, 04/28/20
Image by Talbot Troy/(CC BY 2.0)

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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