A large number of the younger COVID-19 patients currently in intensive care are obese and often develop more severe complications because of excessive weight, Times of Malta has learnt.

The age of those in intensive care has recently plummeted, with patients as young as 41 getting treatment in the hospital’s ITU. No patients over 80 are currently in intensive care.

Sources who spoke to Times of Malta described how the rocketing tally of new cases meant more people in the community were getting infected and so those at greater risk were also being impacted.

Among these are obese patients who tend to develop more serious complications because of their weight, something which has medics “very concerned”, the sources said.

“Most of our younger patients are obese and that means they already struggle with myriads of other conditions and adding COVID-19 to all that means they develop very serious complications,” a source working in the ITU said.

Obese patients often suffer from other conditions like hypertension and diabetes, illnesses that are exacerbated by COVID-19.

We’ve known that obesity is a big problem in Malta for years

To make matters worse, putting patients on mechanical ventilation is more complicated when the individual is obese and healthcare workers often struggle with the invasive procedure.  Obese patients are also more prone to complications from mechanical ventilation, ITU specialists explained.

According to official data published in January, two out of every five COVID-19 patients who needed a ventilator died.

Maltese are most obese in Europe

Health professionals are concerned this worrying trend will only continue to get worse, especially since over a quarter of the Maltese population is obese. This is the highest rate in Europe.

A further 36 per cent of the adult population is overweight, meaning more than half of Malta’s adults have an unhealthy weight, putting them at greater risk of complications from COVID-19.

“We’ve known that obesity is a big problem in Malta for years. With COVID-19, it has become more evident that we have a very serious issue on our hands. Because of their weight, people are now in critical condition and that is very troubling,” another source within the health sector said.

A study by the World Obesity Federation on Wednesday revealed the death rate from COVID-19 is about 10 times higher in countries where over half of the population is overweight.

According to the study, of the 2.5 million COVID-19 deaths reported by the end of February 2021, 2.2 million were in countries where more than half the population is classified as overweight.

Links between excessive weight and the increased risk of severe symptoms from COVID-19 were found across the world, the federation noted.

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