A new US study has added to the evidence that obesity is a risk factor for severe COVID-19. And in this paper, a particular finding has caught the media’s attention: the apparently greater risk posed by COVID-19 to men with obesity than women. But while it’s tempting to take this information at face value, there are several reasons not to.
There are lots of different ways to look at whether and how obesity increases the risk of COVID-19. Body mass index, or BMI, is the main measure used in studies investigating whether people with obesity have worse outcomes. You can easily calculate your BMI online if you know your weight and height.
The association between worse COVID-19 outcomes and obesity was recognised early on in the pandemic. The first large study investigating this relationship was released in July 2020 and used data from more than 17 million adults in England. It showed that having a BMI of over 40 – classified as “severe obesity” – almost doubled a person’s risk of dying from COVID-19. However, it didn’t provide data on people with BMIs in the lower “overweight” or “obese” ranges.
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