Obese European minorities are up to two times higher the risk of contracting COVID-19 than white Europeans, a study has found. The study used body mass index (BMI), a controversial metric with numerous confounders, so caution is warranted, and cardiometabolic health. The researchers wanted to see if they could statistically link a person's weight to the relative risk of COVID-19 across ethnic groups.
COVID-19 evidence of indeterminate quality has suggested that South Asian and black, African or Caribbean populations in Europe are at a higher risk of becoming seriously unwell with the condition. In addition, a link with obesity has also been found. So the researchers accessed the UK Biobank - a national database of more than 500,000 people who had their health information recorded between March 2006 and July 2010. These individuals had their health records cross-referenced to a national COVID-19 laboratory test data bank between the period of March 16 and June 14, 2020. Of that cohort, 5,623 unique test results were available.
The information helped the research team to quantify the association of BMI with the risk of a positive test for COVID-19, broken down by ethnic group.
According to the results, the greater risk of COVID-19 in minority people relative to white Europeans was only apparent at higher BMI values. For example, at a BMI value of 25 kg/m2, there was no difference in risk, whereas at a BMI of 30 kg/m2 the risk of COVID-19 was nearly twice as high (1.75) and at 35 kg/m2 more than two and a half times higher (2.76) in minority individuals relative to white Europeans.
There are confounders. This was non-random testing but that is why epidemiology only creates exploratory findings. The work suggests that the combination of obesity and minority status may place individuals at particularly high-risk of contracting COVID-19, which is consistent with findings for associations of BMI and ethnicity with cardiometabolic dysfunction. Which is uncomfortably like saying minority people make poor lifestyle choices and governments need to do more to decide for them.
The findings suggest the association between BMI and the risk of COVID-19 may vary by ethnicity but a sensible diet and exercise help all skin colors maintain better health - but government can't mandate that.