WASHINGTON — Jonathan Neman, co-founder and CEO of fast-casual salad chain Sweetgreen wrote on LinkedIn that the pandemic is hitting heavier people harder, and pointed a finger at fatty food.
"78% of hospitalizations due to COVID are Obese and Overweight people," the since-deleted post read in part. "Is there an underlying problem that perhaps we have not given enough attention to? Is there another way to think about how we tackle 'healthcare' by addressing the root cause? "
Neman’s post was removed following backlash from people who thought his comments were insensitive. But that hasn’t stopped the idea from spreading online.
Does being overweight or obese make you more susceptible to severe COVID?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention- MMWR Report March 12, 2021
- Dr. Amesh Adalja- infectious disease critical care and emergency medicine physician at Johns Hopkins University
- Dr. Daniel Tran- attending Bariatric Surgeon at Howard University Hospital
- Dr. Glenn Wortmann- Director of Infectious Diseases at MedStar Washington Hospital Center
WHAT WE FOUND:
Our Verify researchers started by looking at a widely cited CDC study published in March of 2021.
The CDC analyzed Body Mass Index (BMI) data for more than 148,000 COVID patients hospitalized between March and December 2020. Of those patients, 28.3% were categorized as overweight and 50.8% as obese.
"Overweight and obesity were risk factors for invasive mechanical ventilation, and obesity was a risk factor for hospitalization and death, particularly among adults aged <65 years," the CDC study says.
"When you're obese or when you are overweight it's not just having more pounds on the scale, the extra fat that you have actually causes your body to alter its physiology," Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease critical care and emergency medicine physician at Johns Hopkins University, said.
Being overweight or obese can weaken a person's immune system, weaken their lung function and put him or her at greater risk of diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular disease.
“They may have [a] worse outcome both in terms of the hospitalization, the length of hospital stay, the requirement for...ventilation support, and then the ICU admissions could be higher because of [the] obesity factor,” Dr. Daniel Tran, an attending surgeon in Bariatrics at Howard University Hospital, said.
All our experts agreed, that yes, being overweight or obese puts you at greater risk for developing severe COVID.
"So in multiple countries, people looked at data to see who gets hospitalized and, unfortunately, who die, and if you're obese, you're at a higher risk of being hospitalized and dying," Glenn Wortman, director of Infectious Diseases at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, said.
So are overweight and obese patients making up the majority of COVID hospitalizations?
According to that CDC study says so; it found 79.1% of those surveyed were obese or overweight.
However, our experts were split on the topic.
Dr. Adalja says it’s true; saying that the majority of his patients hospitalized for COVID-19 are in fact obese or overweight.
But Dr. Tran argues the findings cited by the CDC aren't complete, because the CDC researchers only surveyed data from 238 hospitals out of 800.
So without a consensus, we can’t verify an answer on this right now.