Study found a strong connection between COVID-19 mortality risk and obesity

Those from ethnic minorities who have a higher BMI were most at risk of dying from COVID-19.


A new study sought to investigate the association between body mass index (BMI) and COVID-19 mortality across different ethnic groups. They found a strong correlation between deaths from COVID-19 and obesity in people of Black, South Asian, and other ethnic minority groups than in White people.

However, a slight difference was observed in risk between ethnic groups in lean individuals at low Body Mass Index (BMI).

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Leicester and the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The data was obtained from the national Census information electronic health records for the study. Scientists also examined mortality data of more than 12 million English adults over 40 years of age who were alive at the start of the pandemic and who had a value of BMI recorded by a GP in the previous ten years.

Professor Tom Yates, Professor of Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour and Health at the University of Leicester, and lead author of the study, said: “The increased risks of COVID-19 infection, severe disease, and death associated with obesity and ethnicity has been well researched in their own right, but this is the first study to present findings on how the risk of COVID-19 mortality in ethnic minority groups is dependent on BMI, with obesity seeming to magnify the higher risk reported in ethnic minority groups.”

Professor Kamlesh Khunti, Director of NIHR ARC East Midlands and the Centre for Ethnic Health Research, said“We are learning more and more about this deadly virus, and this study represents another important finding. It highlights the urgent need for more research into the causal relationship between ethnicity and obesity.”

“The research gives insights that will allow healthcare professionals and policymakers to put measures in place and create tailored plans to protect people from ethnic minority groups who are overweight or obese and thus try to reduce mortality.”

Only 52.4 percent of English adults recorded their BMI 10 years before the pandemic. Hence, the analyses only apply to this cohort within the population. However, the sample size of 12.5 million individuals over 40 years old is the biggest of its sort.

The study highlights the requirement for more research to understand better why ethnicity and obesity are associated with higher COVID-19 mortality.

Journal Reference:

  1. Thomas Yates et al. Obesity, Ethnicity, and Covid-19 Mortality: A population-based cohort study of 12.6 Million Adults in England. DOI: 10.1101/2021.07.22.21260416
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