Connection found between obesity, flu complications

A new study recently revealed a connection between obesity and respiratory hospitalizations during seasonal flu months.

During the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, the finding of a link between flu complications and obesity led public health officials in many countries to tweak vaccine priority planning. An extension of that link to the seasonal flu, found by Canadian researchers, could help health authorities to design better policies to protect the obese, according to CIDRAP News.

The study’s findings, which appear in the online edition of the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, cover a period of 12 flu seasons and are based on an examination of 82,545 adults who responded to public health surveys.

The surveys were part of a national cross-sectional effort by Statistics Canada. The study group was focused primarily on Ontario, which had a response rate above 75 percent, CIDRAP News reports. Health administrative data sets allowed investigators to assess demographic factors and medical variables like chronic medical conditions and vaccination status.

The risk for the most obese group in the study who had no chronic medical conditions was found to be the same for those of average weight who had one risk factor for flu complications. The authors said this indicates that severe obesity may turn out to be as important a predictor of flu complications as other previously identified conditions.

"This study offers a new perspective on the dangers of obesity and its relationship to severe influenza infection," the authors said, CIDRAP News reports.

The researchers added that people who are considered obese should be advised to receive annual flu vaccinations and be treated with antiviral medication should they come down with flu-like symptoms.