Obesity, a risk factor for symptom severity

The main topic of interest within SOPHIA’s WP3 is to assess the risk factors involved in obesity.  However, obesity itself is a well-known risk factor of other diseases. For example, obesity has been considered a long-term risk factor for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes; on the other hand, obesity is considered a risk factor for acute diseases as well. The latter has been recently brought to light during the COVID-19 pandemic.  One WP3 partner, François Pattou, MD, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Lille, France, reported that obesity is one of the biggest risk factors for severe COVID-19 infection, especially in younger patients.  With increasing body mass index (BMI), the probability for the need for invasive mechanical ventilation and intensive care admission increases1.

Photo source: UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

Imposed restrictions during the various lockdowns have also negatively affected people living with obesity and related complications.  Social distancing, enforced lockdowns and unhealthy food choices, due to limited access to fresh and healthy foods, may also contribute to weight gain. Previous studies have reported a lower related quality of life (HRQol) and higher rates of psychopathology in people living with obesity2,3.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, these problems will have only become compounded.

Obesity is, therefore, a risk factor for increased COVID 19 symptom severity, with patients forming a particularly vulnerable group for worse physical and psychological outcomes.  By increasing pressure on health services and scaling down of regular care, people living with obesity are now more vulnerable than ever.  This just places greater emphasis on the need for more effective treatment of obesity.  The multi-causal nature of obesity makes the treatment of this chronic disease difficult. One solution proposed by SOPHIA is to stratify (separate) patients into obesity subtypes, with treatments being tailored to the individual, based on their predicted response or risk of disease.

SOPHIA WP3 intends to contribute to this field of knowledge by identifying such patient subgroups and their associated predictors and risk factors to improve the overall quality of care. From large population-based datasets, analysis will be performed on genetic and other molecular and clinical phenotype information to investigate risk factors for developing obesity and to identify biomarkers that could:

  • predict obesity risk;
  • predict response to obesity treatments;
  • identify obesity subtypes.


  1. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/940440
  2. Stunkard AJ, Wadden TA. Psychological aspects of severe obesity. Am J Clin Nutr. 1992 Feb;55(2 Suppl):524S-32S.
  3. van Nunen AM, Wouters EJ, Vingerhoets AJ, Hox JJ, Geenen R. The health-related quality of life of obese persons seeking or not seeking surgical or non-surgical treatment: a meta-analysis. Obes Surg. 2007 Oct;17(10):1357-66.

This project has received funding from the Innovative Medicines Initiative 2 Joint Undertaking (JU) under grant agreement No 875534. The JU receives support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and EFPIA and T1D Exchange, JDRF, and Obesity Action Coalition.

About IMI

The Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) is Europe’s largest public-private initiative aiming to improve health by speeding up the development of, and patient access to, innovative medicines, particularly in areas where there is an unmet medical or social need. IMI facilitates collaboration between the key players involved in healthcare research, including universities, the pharmaceutical and other industries, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), patient organisations, and medicines regulators. It is a partnership between the European Union (represented by the European Commission) and the European pharmaceutical industry (represented by EFPIA, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations). For further information: www.imi.europa.eu