Study Links Obesity to COVID-19 Severity

Doctor examines obese patient. | Image by SUPERMAO, Shutterstock

Researchers claim to have discovered a new link between weight and susceptibility to COVID-19.

Scientists at the Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease (CITIID), along with Wellcome Sanger Institute, released the results of a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine that postulates that those who are obese are more susceptible to COVID-19 due to a decreased bodily response to affliction.

Previous studies have linked obesity as a risk factor for COVID-19. This disease has also been linked to other afflictions, such as hypertension, heart disease, and stroke, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

Professor Menna Clatworthy, a clinician scientist at the University of Cambridge, and her team conducted this new study by observing samples taken from the blood and lungs of 13 obese COVID-19 patients and 20 non-obese patients. The obese patients received intensive care and ventilation, while the non-obese group contained ventilated patients not suffering from COVID.

The scientists observed RNA molecules from each group through a method known as transcriptomics.

“During the pandemic, the majority of younger patients I saw on the COVID wards were obese. … I would have said that it was most likely due to excessive inflammation. What we found was the absolute opposite,” said Clatworthy, according to a press release.

Scientists define inflammation as “a biological response of the immune system that can be triggered by a variety of factors, including pathogens, damaged cells and toxic compounds.” Inflammation is a “defense mechanism” of the body that is “vital to health.”

Chronic or excessive inflammation, however, can damage otherwise healthy tissue and organs and even result in scarring and tissue death.

Previous studies have linked obesity to chronic inflammation and even memory problems, as previously reported by The Dallas Express. Researchers have also postulated that the affliction can even rewrite responses from the immune system.

This most recent study suggested that obese patients had lowered immune and inflammatory responses in their lungs and lower activity levels in genes responsible for interferon production than those not obese.

“Across every cell type we looked at, we found that that the genes responsible for the classical antiviral response were less active. They were completely muted,” said Clatworthy.

Clatworthy called the results “surprising and unexpected.”

Clatworthy postulates an explanation based on fat cells’ production of leptin, a hormone that regulates appetite that plays a role in the immune response. Obese individuals already have chronically higher levels of leptin. Clatworthy suspects that they do not produce enough additional leptin in response to infection, which could result in a failure to stimulate immune cells adequately.

Scientists from the study are suggesting a more personalized approach to treatment.

“What we’ve shown is that not all patients are the same, so we might need to tailor treatments,” said Dr. Andrew Conway Morris, co-author of the study. “Obese subjects might need less anti-inflammatory treatments and potentially more help for their immune system,” he continued.

Obesity remains one of the nation’s most prevalent epidemics as cases across Texas and the nation continue to rise.

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