Obesity does not increase Covid-19 mortality risk in ICU, researchers claim
When admitted to the ICU for the coronavirus, obese patients do not have a higher risk of dying than people with a healthy BMI, according to unpublished research among 2600 Covid-19 patients in intensive care by 82 Dutch doctors and researchers during the first half of last year, the Volkskrant reports.
“Once at the ICU, the mortality risk of all groups is comparable”, research leader and professor of intensive care medicine at RadboudMC, Peter Pickkers, said. The coronavirus mortality rate for overweight versus non-overweight patients at the ICU was roughly the same at 25 to 30 percent.
Weight does affect the chance of being admitted to the ICU in the first place, however. Approximately, 80 percent of all coronavirus patients in the ICU were overweight, according to numbers by the NICE foundation.
Doctors have not yet reached a conclusion as to why heavier patients have a higher ICU admittance rate. Their immune systems are not weaker, as previous studies have suggested, the International Journal of Obesity says. A deciding factor could be that obese patients have diabetes more often which magnifies the impact of the coronavirus.
In fact, a higher BMI has been shown in other diseases to contribute to a lower mortality risk for ICU patients. This is known as the obesity paradox. Doctors are still puzzled as to why this is the case. One theory is that excess body fat provides important reserves in the case of serious illness.
The coronavirus contradicts this paradox. Obese Covid-19 patients in the ICU do not have lower mortality rates than patients at a healthy body weight. Instead, the chances are roughly the same. Researchers have stated this could be because the coronavirus binds to fat cells. Fat tissue could thus play a pathogenic role.
Pickkers emphasized this discovery is not to negate the adverse effects of obesity. The equal mortality rate between overweight and non-overweight patients could be due to the majority of Covid-patients in the ICU being overweight. This could mean that the overall number of deaths for obese people still is higher than for people at a healthy body weight.