Excess body weight may be associated with significant rates of COVID-19 mortality among adult populations around the globe, according to a study. The research, published in the journal Public Health in Practice, analysed plausible associations of COVID-19 mortality and excess weight in nearly 5.5 billion adults from 154 countries around the world.
The researchers from The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the US employed cutting-edge techniques of statistical analyses to identify potential patterns in data. “The main finding from the analysis is a statistically significant positive association between COVID-19 mortality and the proportion of the overweight in adult populations spanning 154 countries,” said study lead principal investigator Hamid Beladi from UTSA.
“This association holds across countries belonging to different income groups and is not sensitive to a population’s median age, proportion of the elderly, and/or proportion of females,” Beladi said. The researchers noted that when the proportion of the overweight people in a country’s adult population is one percentage point higher than that of another country, it is reasonable to predict that COVID-19 mortality would be 3.5 percentage points higher in the first country than it would be in the second.
“The average individual is less likely to die from COVID-19 in a country with a relatively low proportion of the overweight in the adult population, all other things being equal, than she or he would be in a country with a relatively high proportion of the overweight in the adult population,” Beladi said. The researchers noted that, clinically, excess body weight is related to several comorbidities that can lead to an increasingly severe course of and consequent death from COVID-19.
Metabolic disorders, for example, can predispose individuals to a poorer COVID-19 outcome, they explained. According to the researchers, since excess body weight can result in a greater volume and longer duration of contagion, it can also lead to a higher level of exposure to COVID-19.
They added that on average, the COVID-19 pandemic has been more fatal for adult populations residing in parts of the world characterised by excess body weight. The researchers believe their findings can be used to uphold public policy regulations on the food industry, to the extent that it profits off the sales of processed foods, foods high in salt, sugar and saturated fats.
With the death toll from the current pandemic exceeding 4.5 million, the study’s main findings call for immediate and effective regulations that are long overdue, Beladi said. “Some firms in the food industry have taken the liberty of using the pandemic as a platform for marketing in ways that are all but conducive to restraining body weight,” he explained.
“Our observed association, between COVID-19 mortality and the share of the overweight in nearly 5.5 billion adults residing across 154 countries that host almost 7.5 billion people around the globe, serves as a caution against putting more lives at stake,” Belladi added.