A study led by the University of Gothenburg recently revealed that obesity levels were associated with COVID-19 intensive care during the pandemic’s first wave. The study team found that slightly over 39% of the patients in intensive care units (ICUs) were formally classified as obese, compared with 16% in the general Swedish population. Obese patients with COVID-19 face a higher risk of hospitalization and death.

The recent study was published in the journal PLOS ONE, as the research team sought to investigate if a high body mass index (BMI) associates with the risk of a longer hospitalization stay and/or death for COVID-19 patients.

The Study Design

The research team used the Swedish Intensive Care Registry (SIR) to identify all patients with COVID-19 admitted to the ICUs during the first wave of the pandemic. Some limitations were associated with the Swedish database, including that height and weight were not always reported in the SIR. In those cases, the team provided supplemental information directly from the ICU and second via the Nationwide Passport Register. This latter registry contains information like height, etc.


The study team found that out of 1,649 COVID-19 patients from the ICU at university, county, and local hospitals—hospitals from across the country were used—the patients with a BMI of 30 kg/m2 or above were overrepresented among those patients in Swedish ICUs. Over the life of the study, the total was 39.4%, while this overall population represents 16% of the country’s total population.

The investigators found that BMI score correlates with longer stays in intensive care and mortality risk compared to a normal-weight group. For those patients with a BMI of over 35, they faced even more risk associated with risk of ICU admission—twice as high as the risk for patients of normal weight.

Lead Research/Investigator

Lovisa Sjogren, Researcher, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, pediatrician at Sahlgrenska University Hospital and Halland Hospital Halmstad, first author

Jenny M Kindblom, MD, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, and Chief Physician at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, is the study’s senior author.

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