Question & Answer

Does a high BMI increase vulnerability to COVID-19?

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  • There are claims on social media that high BMI may increase vulnerability to COVID-19.
  • Currently, national (HSE) and international (PHE, CDC) guidelines state that obesity (having a BMI of more than 30) places people at higher risk for complications from COVID-19.
  • Obesity has previously been recognised as an independent risk factor for problems associated with influenza (flu). There will likely be parallels between previous influenza pandemics and COVID-19, so researchers are continuing to explore how obesity could affect a person’s vulnerability to severe COVID-19.
  • There is evidence to suggest that severe obesity puts people at risk of having a more severe disease in COVID-19 and more likely to need advanced medical care. A systematic review of just three studies found that people with obesity were more likely to need advanced medical care and that obesity was a risk factor for poorer outcomes (complications and death) in the people with COVID-19. In particular, these studies indicate that severe obesity (BMI of above 40) is likely to increase the risk of complications from COVID-19.
  • Having obesity may also present challenges for those who become ill and who require intensive care.
  • There is no evidence that people with obesity have a higher risk of being infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, or passing the virus on to others.

Things to Remember

Reviewers

  • Lead Researcher: Dr Teresa Corbett, Solent University Southampton
  • Reviewed by: Prof Declan Devane, School of Nursing and Midwifery, HRB-Trials Methodology Research Network, Evidence Synthesis Ireland & Cochrane Ireland, NUI Galway
  • Evidence Advisor: Prof Francis Finucane, Galway University Hospitals and NUI Galway
  • Evidence Advisor: Casey Donaghey, PPI Ignite, NUI Galway
  • Journalist Advisor: Dr Claire O’Connell, Journalist, Contributor, The Irish Times