OBESE and overweight Brits should be kept in lockdown longer, experts have suggested.
Having a high BMI puts you at "substantial risk" – with figures suggesting obese people are three times more likely to die of Covid-19.
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It adds to mounting evidence that being overweight is a major risk factor for severe cases of coronavirus.
One leading diet expert told The Sun, there's "no time like the present" to lose weight – amid the growing concern.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday said "the age profile and factors like obesity" are potential reasons why the UK has Europe's highest death toll.
Around a third of Brits are obese, with a BMI above 30 and the latest figures show the UK has one of the highest death rates per head of population across Europe – after Ireland and Andorra.
A Government review is now underway to determine how gender, ethnicity and obesity can affect the impact of the virus, the Times reported.
Research by academics at the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found people with a body mass index (BMI) over 40 were three times more likely to die from Covid-19.
Those with a BMI of between 30 and 35 are 1.3 times more likely to die, while a BMI of 35 to 40 makes you 1.6 times more vulnerable.
Prof Liam Smeeth, who co-led the study, said: “We found a very marked increase in death rates among obese people.
“Those with a body mass index over 40 are three times more likely to die of Covid-19.
“There seems to be something around obesity that is driving this increase, even taking into account other conditions that go along with obesity such a diabetes.”
His co-leader Prof Ben Goldacre added: “Obesity wasn’t previously well identified as a major risk factor.
"Hopefully our findings will inform future decisions about who is included in the ‘at risk’ group.
“These are very substantial risks. There may have to be a difference when managing emergence from lockdown, thinking about the different risks that different groups of people face.”
Experts last week advised the government that keeping certain at-risk groups in lockdown while everyone else is “released” would dramatically reduce the risk of a second outbreak of coronavirus.
The new findings from Oxford Uni come after a similar study by researchers at Glasgow University found being obese doubles your risk of ending up in hospital with coronavirus.
Paul Welsh, who worked on the study, told the Times: "Certainly, we think from what we've seen BMI is part of the picture.
"Previous studies have really focused on, once patients are in hospital, who ends up needing ventilation and who ends up dying.
"And we've seen in numerous different studies that obese patients tend to progress in a worse way.
"People with obesity are more likely to end up in hospital with Covid."
Their research also showed people who had high blood pressure or walked slower than others were at greater risk.
Data collected from 17,000 coronavirus patients also found death rates were 37 per cent higher among obese people.
Obesity can cause heart disease and diabetes which are known to increase people's vulnerability to the deadly bug.
And another theory is that obese people have lower levels of oxygen, which is one of the main criteria linked to hospital admissions.
Another study has shown that fat cells have higher levels of a key protein which Covid-19 uses to infiltrate human cells.
The experts from Germany and the US said that fat might "serve as a viral reservoir".
No time like the present
Susan Jebb, professor of diet and population health at the University of Oxford, said: “It’s becoming increasingly clear that people with obesity are more likely to have severe complications, they're more likely to be admitted to intensive care and they're more likely to sadly die from their infection.
“While we don't have research to tell us what will happen to your risk if you lose weight say over the next month, it is as important as ever to try to control your weight.
“The first thing to do is to stop buying biscuits and other such foods.
"The point is that while we’re in lockdown, if things are not in your house and in your immediate vicinity you are far, far less likely to eat them.
“The worst thing you can do is to keep putting it off. There is no time like the present.”
Diets aren't the answer
Earlier this week, deputy chief scientific adviser Dame Angela McLean said while obesity is an "additional risk factor" for coronavirus patients, she warned fad diets are not the answer.
Speaking at Tuesday night's Downing Street briefing, she said: "We have very fine evidence… that once you're in hospital being obese is an additional risk factor for being admitted to an ICU or indeed for death.
"My understanding about the way to lose weight is that going on a diet isn't the way to do it.
"What you have to do is actually decide to completely change your lifestyle, you have to decide to do something that is going to be enduring, not just going on a diet."
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