People in their 50s with long-term obesity were three times as likely to have developed long Covid compared to those who became obese more recently or never at all, a study has revealed.
Using data collected from more than 14,000 people born in 1958 and 1970 – baby boomers and generation X – who are taking part in two British birth cohort studies, UCL researchers discovered that being obese earlier in life and for a longer time often resulted on worse outcomes for people who caught coronavirus.
Evidence of a strong link between obesity and worse ill health from Covid-19 has been published already, but the research team were able to show that the timing of first becoming obese is important as well as the degree of obesity at the time of the pandemic. However, they acknowledged the results were mixed and “often underpowered”.
They found adults in their 60s who had been obese across adulthood were more than twice as likely to have had long Covid, compared to those who were never obese; and were more than four times as likely to have been admitted to hospital with Covid symptoms.
The researchers suggested that people who became obese earlier in adulthood were more likely to develop health problems in midlife, which increased their risk of severe Covid. The research paper is published on the Journal of Epidemiology and Global Health website.
With the World Obesity Federation recently stating that half the world will be obese by 2035, the researchers said their findings have potentially serious consequences for healthcare services, especially in the event of another pandemic.
Lead author Dr Charis Bridger Staatz, from UCL’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies, told i: “The study helps to untangle possible mechanisms that relate obesity to worse Covid-19 outcomes through ‘low grade chronic inflammation’. The study contributes to prior evidence of the negative consequences that spending long periods in an inflamed state can have for health, including infectious disease outcomes – this in particular has not really been looked at in relation to Covid-19 or long Covid.
“Our work highlights the importance of considering health over the whole of the life course, and addressing obesity from an early age. It’s not only necessary to reduce people’s BMI [body mass index] at a single time point to prevent future ill-health, but also vital to reduce the amount of time people are overweight and obese across their lives. This is not only important in regards to long Covid, but for other similar conditions.”
Around three quarters of people in the UK aged 45-74 are overweight or obese, according to latest statistics. Men are more likely to have a body mass index measurement above normal than women. One in 10 children is obese by age 5, rising to 23 per cent by age 11, with deprived children more likely to be obese.
An estimated two million people in the UK (3.1 per cent of the population) were experiencing self-reported long Covid, defined as symptoms continuing for more than four weeks after the first confirmed or suspected coronavirus infection that were not explained by something else, as of 2 January 2023, according to latest figures from the Office for National Statistics.