Journal Article
Observational Study
Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
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Understanding the Link Between Obesity and Severe COVID-19 Outcomes: Causal Mediation by Systemic Inflammatory Response.

BACKGROUND: Obesity is an established risk factor for severe COVID-19 outcomes. The mechanistic underpinnings of this association are not well-understood.

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the mediating role of systemic inflammation in obesity-associated COVID-19 outcomes.

METHODS: This hospital-based, observational study included 3828 SARS-CoV-2-infected patients who were hospitalized February to May 2020 at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) or Columbia University Irving Medical Center/New York Presbyterian Hospital (CUIMC/NYP). We use mediation analysis to evaluate whether peak inflammatory biomarkers (C-reactive protein [CRP], erythrocyte sedimentation rate [ESR], D-dimer, ferritin, white blood cell count and interleukin-6) are in the causal pathway between obesity (BMI ≥ 30) and mechanical ventilation or death within 28 days of presentation to care.

RESULTS: In the MGH cohort (n = 1202), obesity was associated with greater likelihood of ventilation or death (OR = 1.73; 95% CI = [1.25, 2.41]; P = 0.001) and higher peak CRP (P < 0.001) compared with nonobese patients. The estimated proportion of the association between obesity and ventilation or death mediated by CRP was 0.49 (P < 0.001). Evidence of mediation was more pronounced in patients < 65 years (proportion mediated = 0.52 [P < 0.001] vs 0.44 [P = 0.180]). Findings were more moderate but consistent for peak ESR. Mediation by other inflammatory markers was not supported. Results were replicated in CUIMC/NYP cohort (n = 2626).

CONCLUSION: Findings support systemic inflammatory pathways in obesity-associated severe COVID-19 disease, particularly in patients < 65 years, captured by CRP and ESR. Contextualized in clinical trial findings, these results reveal therapeutic opportunity to target systemic inflammatory pathways and monitor interventions in high-risk subgroups and particularly obese patients.

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