Obesity in ethnic minority groups linked to higher COVID-19 mortality

COVID-19 mortality
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A novel study has identified an association between obesity in ethnic minority groups and a higher risk of COVID-19 mortality compared to white people.

Performed by researchers from the University of Leicester and the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the study illuminates that people of Black, South Asian, and other ethnic minorities have an increased risk of COVID-19 mortality from obesity than white people.

The findings found that although there was little difference in COVID-19 mortality risk between ethnic groups in lean individuals at low Body Mass Index (BMI), as BMI levels increased, ethnic minorities were substantially more at risk of dying from COVID-19.

The study, titled ‘A population-based cohort study of obesity, ethnicity and COVID-19 mortality in 12.6 million English adults’, is published in Nature Communications. The project was jointly funded by UK Research and Innovation and Health Data Research UK and was supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) East Midlands and the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre.

How ethnicity impacts COVID-19 mortality

To conduct their research, the team analysed the national census information, electronic health records, and mortality data (number of deaths) of over 12 million English adults aged over 40 years who were alive at the start of the pandemic and had their BMI recorded by a GP in the last ten years.

The team explained that due to only 52.4% of the English adult population having their BMI recorded by their GP in the ten years before the pandemic, their analysis only applies to this cohort within the population. Nevertheless, their study’s sample size of over 12 million people over the age of 40 makes it the most extensive of its kind that examines obesity and ethnicity as combined risk factors for COVID-19 mortality.

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.”

Furthering research

Although the study identified an increased risk of death in ethnic minority groups due to an elevated BMI, the mechanisms behind this are still unclear. This signifies the crucial need for more research to better comprehend the relationship between ethnicity and obesity and their risk factors associated with COVID-19.

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.”

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