Several cities across the country that count obesity as an underlying condition have opened COVID-19 vaccine appointments to people with a body mass index of 30 or higher — the medical benchmark for obesity.
While BMI isn’t a foolproof standard by which to assess potential health risk factors, obesity medicine physician Dr. Fatima Stanford told NPR, “overall, it’s a good measure” in this case.
It would be dangerous for people with obesity to not get vaccinated, she said, given that obesity is a risk factor for both severe illness and hospitalization from COVID-19.
“We’re talking about two inflammatory conditions. We have chronic inflammation associated with obesity, the disease, not playing well with the acute inflammatory process of COVID-19,” said Stanford, who works at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.
More than 42% of adults in the U.S. have obesity, one of the country’s most prevalent chronic diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity is more common in Black people, and slightly more common in Hispanic people, compared to white people. Black and Hispanic people have been suffering from COVID-19 at disproportionately higher rates.
“BMI by itself is an arbitrary cutoff, but it’s a decent population-wide measure,” Stanford said. “It’s important though if you’re talking with physicians and their work with individual patients to not use BMI as the sole cutoff for how we navigate treatment strategies for patients that have this disease of obesity.”