Fact Check: Do Overweight People Account For Most COVID-19 Deaths?

More than a year into the pandemic, the health care and science communities have identified a number of risk factors that increase the likelihood of complications from COVID-19.

Among them, old age, pre-existing illness and being overweight or obese lead the pack in increasing a person's risk of hospitalization and even death.

A recent report from the World Obesity Federation (WOF) unveiled new links between obesity and COVID-19 outcomes.

The Claim

Shortly after the WOF released its findings, conservative firebrand Jack Posobiec went on a tweeting spree, remarking that "studies have now shown that most of the virus deaths came from people who were overweight."

David, studies have now shown that most of the virus deaths came from people who were overweight https://t.co/P1BsApmJLe

— Neanderthal Scholar Poso (@JackPosobiec) March 5, 2021

The Facts

There is no denying that obesity is a driving force between COVID-19-related mortality and other adverse outcomes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, it may triple a person's risk of hospitalization.

The report released by the WOF this week found more troubling news about COVID-19 in relation to weight. Analyzing data on obesity from Johns Hopkins University and the WHO Global Health Observatory, 2.2 million of the global 2.5 million COVID-19 deaths reported in February occurred in countries where more than half the population is classified as overweight.

Data from more than 160 countries shows a linear correlation between a nation's COVID mortality and obesity rate, finding that no country with an obesity rate below 40 percent reported high death rates.

For instance, in Vietnam, which has one of the lowest death rates, only about 18 percent of the population qualifies as overweight.

The United States, by contrast, has an obesity rate of about 67 percent and sits at second place in COVID-19 death rates overall at about 152 deaths per 100,000.

But while the WOF's report finds compelling evidence that countries with higher obesity levels report the most COVID-19 deaths, it does not say that the most global virus deaths occurred in people who were overweight. Rather than looking at the slice of the pie that overweight people make up in overall mortality, the study compares current obesity rates and COVID-19 death rates.

The authors also acknowledge that a country's age structure, relative wealth and reporting capacity all have an impact on COVID-19 cases.

The Ruling

False.

Being overweight or obese is a leading cause of COVID-19 complications and mortality, but there are no numbers to indicate that the most COVID-related deaths occurred in this population overall.

The report released by the WOF found there were linear correlations between a country's COVID-19 mortality rate and the proportion of adults who are overweight. It did not break down the percentage of people globally who were overweight and also died from COVID-19.

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Even with 70 percent of the population vaccinated against the new coronavirus, experts weren't confident there would be large gatherings this year. Pharmacist Madeline Acquilano fills a syringe with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine before inoculating members of the public at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, on Wednesday. Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images, Giphy