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If You Weigh This Much, Be Worried About COVID, Says Study

Researchers say more than 42% of Americans have this risk.

According to a new study, obesity can increase your risk of dying from coronavirus by nearly 50%.

Scientists analyzed 75 studies and found that obesity—defined as a body mass index (BMI) over 30—was associated with a 48% higher risk of death, a 113% higher risk of hospitalization and 74% higher risk of admission to intensive care with COVID-19.

RELATED: Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.

In the study published Thursday in the journal Obesity Reviews, researchers also warned that obesity may reduce the effectiveness of any potential COVID vaccine. Obesity has been shown to increase inflammation throughout the body and impair the immune system, which has been associated with a higher death rate from other diseases like influenza. 

"Potentially the vaccines developed to address COVID‐19 will be less effective for individuals with obesity due to a weakened immune response," the researchers wrote. The influenza vaccine has previously been found to be less effective in obese people.

72% of Americans are overweight

Obesity is a serious health problem in the United States and worldwide. The researchers noted that few countries have a rate of overweight/obesity that's less than 70%. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42.4% of American adults are obese, and 71.6% of Americans over age 20 are overweight (defined as a BMI over 25).

"Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer that are some of the leading causes of preventable, premature death," the CDC says. 

Unfortunately, coronavirus can now be added to that table. And obesity isn't just associated with poor outcomes from COVID-19—it seems to increase the chance you'll be infected with coronavirus in the first place.

A recent UK study found that risk of COVID-19 infection rose alongside BMI and waist circumference. Being overweight, obese or severely obese (defined as having a BMI higher than 40) increased the risk of COVID infection by 31%, 55% and 57%, respectively.

Why obesity increases risk

Besides impaired immune function, obesity is associated with high blood glucose and diabetes, which have been linked to higher morbidity and mortality resulting from coronaviruses like SARS and MERS.

Additionally, an aspect of the risk is pure physics—when you're obese, larger fat deposits in the chest wall, chest cavity and abdominal cavity compress the chest, meaning that obese people have to work harder to breathe even when they're healthy. 

That's why doctors say that, if you're overweight or obese, losing weight is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your COVID-related risks. Just dropping 5% of your body weight can make a difference.

Besides maintaining a healthy weight, scientific data backs frequent handwashing, consistent wearing of face masks and avoiding large gatherings as effective prevention measures—and don't miss these 37 Places You're Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael