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Obesity is a major risk factor for those with coronavirus, says France's chief epidemiologist

Being overweight is a major risk factor for people infected with the novel coronavirus, France's chief epidemiologist said on Wednesday.

Professor Jean-François Delfraissy, who heads the scientific council that advises the government on the epidemic, said up to 25 percent of French people are seriously at risk from the virus because of age, pre-existing conditions or obesity.

He added that Americans are particularly at risk because of rising levels of obesity in the US, with currently 42.4 percent of the adult population being severely overweight. 

France's chief epidemiologist, Professor Jean-François Delfraissy, says being obese is a major risk factor for those infected with coronavirus (file image)

Delfraissy said he is particularly concerned about this in the US, where 42.4% of the population is obese. Pictured: An patient is loaded off an ambulance 

'This virus is terrible. It can hit young people, in particular obese young people. Those who are overweight really need to be careful,' Delfraissy told franceinfo radio.

'That is why we're worried about our friends in America, where the problem of obesity is well-known and where they will probably have the most problems because of obesity.'

Experts suggest that obesity may put the US at risk of of a pandemic similar to that seen in 1918 with the Spanish flu.

According to the CDC, 42.4 percent of the US adult population is obese and 18.5 percent of American children are.

Obesity is known as a risk factor for several chronic health conditions including type 2 diabetes, strokes, heart attack and even certain types of cancer.

Experts have warned that the proportion of obese adults will only grow as younger generations do.

Rising rates of obesity will not only raise healthcare cost but could spur the coronavirus pandemic, or future pandemics.

A study of the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, found that obese people were twice as likely to be hospitalized compared with the state population.

This means that obese people diagnosed with COVID-19 could put an even further strain on already overwhelmed hospitals.

Additionally, a recent study from the University of Michigan School of Public Health found that obese adults who become infected with the flu are not only at a greater risk of severe complications, but remain contagious longer.

This means that obesity is tied to an increased risk of flu transmission. With 75 percent of US adults predicted to be overweight or obese by 2030, this could result in a loss of thousands more more lives to the flu, or the coronavirus. 

Although it is unclear why obese adults are more contagious, scientists believe it may be that that obesity changes the body's immune response and leads to chronic inflammation.

Obesity has been cited as a possible explanation for higher than average per-capita COVID-19 death rates in New Orleans.  

A CDC report found that six percent of COVID-19 patients with existing conditions die of the virus

The Louisiana health department revealed 97 percent of COVID-19 patients who died had a pre-existing condition

New Orleans is at greater risk that the national population because 39 percent of residents have high blood pressure, 36 percent are obese and about 19 percent have diabetes - higher rates than the general population.

 Worldwide, more than 1.4 million people have been infected and more than 86,000 people have died.

In the US, there are more than 400,000 confirmed cases of the virus and nearly 13,000 deaths.

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