Obesity and COVID-19

People with non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and respiratory conditions are more at risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19.1 In addition, people living with obesity have been identified at high risk2-5 of developing severe COVID-19. Therefore, it is important to have access to both science-based content and materials that help support conversations with patients to facilitate a better understanding of the impact of COVID-19 while living with obesity.

Recent studies are highlighting that people with obesity are at higher risk of developing more severe COVID-19 and becoming seriously ill.2-4 Additionally, a recent study showed that in populations with a higher prevalence of obesity, there are more patients in younger age groups that will develop serious illness from COVID-19 due to obesity. As a result, obesity could cause younger patients to experience severe illness from COVID-19.5

"Preliminary data suggest that people with obesity are at increased risk of severe COVID-19.”6

Click here to download the Obesity and COVID-19 factsheet

People with obesity are at higher risk of developing more severe COVID-19

We are starting to understand more about the clinical effects of COVID-19 and how it is affecting certain populations, obesity being one of them. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that people of any age with certain underlying medical conditions are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, and being hospitalised and admitted to critical care units.2,5,7 Studies have shown that each 1-unit increase in BMI was also associated with a 12% increase in the risk of severe COVID-19.8 In particular, the presence of obesity increases the risk of severe illness approximately threefold with a consequent longer hospital stay.8

People with obesity are a high risk group that can develop severe illness from COVID-19:8

Obesity and COVID hospitalisation

Obesity is the most prevalent comorbidity among patients under 65 years of age with COVID-19:9

COVID Hospitalisation

People with obesity are at an increased risk of other complications10

Current data suggests that COVID-19 can result in more severe symptoms and complications in people over 65 years of age, 5,7,11 and those with other chronic health conditions including those living with obesity.3 However, in patients with COVID-19 younger than 65, the most common comorbidity is obesity, indicating that the prevalence of serious COVID-19 could shift to also affect younger patients.1,8

Obesity is already known to be associated with other health complications including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension, which are also populations indicated to have a higher risk of more severe COVID-19 symptoms.1,7,10


For more information about the common complications associated with obesity, click here.


Potential pathways linking severity of COVID-19 and obesity

While data investigating the association between COVID-19 and obesity is still emerging, recent studies have suggested the increased severity of COVID-19 symptoms in people with obesity are due to specific pathways that link to:2,3,12,13

Obesity and COVID-19

More research is needed to draw complete conclusions on the definite causal and pathophysiological relationships between obesity and severity of COVID-19 outcomes.

The importance of maintaining long-term management for obesity13,14

It remains as important as ever to ensure people with obesity are able to maintain or start a healthy weight management plan, as easily as possible.14,15

The current pandemic might contribute to an increase in obesity rates, as weight loss programmes (which are often delivered in groups) and interventions, are being severely curtailed.15 The lockdown measures introduced in some countries (e.g. not leaving home for several weeks), could have an impact on mobility and enforced physical inactivity, even for short periods of time, increasing the risk of metabolic disease.15

The self-isolation has led to many people relying on processed food with longer shelf life (instead of fresh produce) and canned food (with higher quantities of sodium).15 Bariatric medical and surgical procedures have been among those cancelled, and regular appointments of other non-acute patients have been scaled down, leaving many people with chronic diseases without the appropriate care they need.14,15 It is important to ensure vulnerable populations, such as people living with obesity, are receiving the best care possible now, to avoid longer-term implications for health systems.14

Click here to discover a range of useful resources to guide obesity management conversations with your patients.

Where can I learn more?

Professional organisations across the world have created online content to support the healthcare community stay informed and up to date on the latest information with obesity and COVID-19.

Below are useful webinars from leading obesity organisations:

  • European Association for the Study of Obesity - Overweight and Obesity as Risk Factors for COVID19 Webinar
  • World Obesity Federation - The Collision of Two Pandemics Webinar
  • World Obesity Federation - People at the Centre Webinar

 Resources on COVID-19

Resources on obesity and COVID-19

Useful journals include: