Aim: To assess the association of country-level obesity prevalence with COVID-19 case and mortality rates, to evaluate the impact of obesity prevalence on worldwide variation.
Methods: Data on COVID-19 prevalence and mortality, country-specific governmental actions, socioeconomic, demographic, and healthcare capacity factors were extracted from publicly available sources. Multivariable negative binomial regression was used to assess the independent association of obesity with COVID-19 case and mortality rates.
Results: Across 168 countries for which data were available, higher obesity prevalence was associated with increased COVID-19 mortality and prevalence rates. For every 1% increase in obesity prevalence, the mortality rate was increased by 8.3% (incidence rate ratio [IRR] 1.083, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.048-1.119; P < 0.001) and the case rate was higher by 6.6% (IRR 1.066, 95% CI 1.035-1.099; P < 0.001). Additionally, higher median population age, greater female ratio, higher Human Development Index (HDI), lower population density, and lower hospital bed availability were all significantly associated with higher COVID-19 mortality rate. In addition, stricter governmental actions, higher HDI and lower mean annual temperature were significantly associated with higher COVID-19 case rate.
Conclusion: These findings demonstrate that obesity prevalence is a significant and potentially modifiable risk factor of increased COVID-19 national caseload and mortality. Future research to study whether weight loss improves COVID-19 outcomes is urgently required.