The coronavirus vaccine will be given to obese adults before healthy individuals aged over 60, according to the latest official government guidance.
Extreme obesity has been identified by experts as one of the key risk factors in relation to COVID-19, with complications and fatalities revealed to be disproportionately high among those who are seriously overweight.
The provisional vaccine priority list published by Public Health England is now divided into nine groups, which outline who will be given a vaccine first.
People aged 16-65 with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of more than 40, are in priority group six, meaning they will be prioritised for the vaccine ahead of healthy over-60s.
Priority group six also includes adults aged 18-65 who suffer from other conditions considered to put them more “at risk” of coronavirus.
These include diabetes, chronic heart disease and severe mental illness.
Why are obese people more at risk from COVID-19?
Experts say obesity is a top risk factor for a suffering from severe illness with COVID-19.
Previous data from more than 16,000 patients across 166 UK hospitals revealed carrying a lot of weight, old age and being male all raise the risk of dying with the infection.
“In July Public Heath England noted that a BMI 35-40 could increase risk of dying with COVID-19 by 40%, while a BMI of over 40 could increase this risk by 90%,” explains GP Dr Ann Donnelly.
“At the University of Cambridge, Stephen O’Rahilly explained when we carry excess fat it accumulates in the liver and skeletal muscle. This disturbs our metabolism, in particular it causes high insulin levels.
“This in turn increases inflammatory cytokines [immune-fighting proteins] and reduces adiponectin which normally protects the lungs.”
This can have a negative impact on immune and metabolic health and can mean an obese individuals’ immune response to COVID-19 could be less effective.
Obese people may also have reduced lung function, which can make it harder to draw in oxygen.
Just under a third (29%) of UK adults were classified as obese in 2019.
Watch: UK orders 5 million doses of new Moderna vaccine.
Dr Giuseppe Aragona, GP and online doctor for PrescriptionDoctor.com, says adults with a BMI of over 40, have been made priority for the vaccine because it is more likely that they will die after contracting COVID-19 than healthy people.
“A healthy BMI is around 18-24 range and so those with the high BMI should take priority for the vaccine as they are at a greater risk, almost double in fact,” he explains.
“Furthermore, those who have diabetes are also placed in the high risk category. Type 1 diabetes is mainly genetic, however Type 2 diabetes is most common in those who are overweight so this should also be considered.”
What is BMI?
According to the NHS, BMI is a measure that uses your height and weight to work out if your weight is healthy.
The key factors which make up your BMI are your height, weight and age.
For most adults, an ideal BMI is in the 18.5 to 24.9 range.
If your BMI is:
below 18.5 – you're in the underweight range
between 18.5 and 24.9 – you're in the healthy weight range
between 25 and 29.9 – you're in the overweight range
between 30 and 39.9 – you're in the obese range
How to calculate your BMI
The NHS has a BMI calculator which helps you determine your BMI and therefore which category - underweight, healthy weight, overweight or obese - you fall into.
But there is a way to calculate an adult’s BMI yourself – by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in metres squared. For example, A BMI of 25 means 25kg/m2.
What can impact your BMI?
BMI takes into account natural variations in body shape, giving a healthy weight range for a particular height.
But as well as measuring your BMI, healthcare professionals may take other factors into account when assessing if you’re a healthy weight.
The NHS explains that muscle is much denser than fat, so very muscular people, such as heavyweight boxers, weight trainers and athletes, may be a healthy weight, even though their BMI would be classed as obese.
Your ethnic group can also affect your risk of some health conditions. “For example, adults of Asian origin may have a higher risk of health problems at BMI levels below 25,” the site explains.