July 13, 2020

A newly published study of more than 17 million people in England sheds light on how much individuals' age, race/ethnicity, body mass index, and more affect their risk of dying from Covid-19, finding that older people, men, racial and ethnic minorities, and people with underlying health conditions are most at risk, Katherine Wu reports for the New York Times.

Charted: Who's at highest risk of dying from Covid-19?

Study details

For the study, published in an early form on Wednesday in Nature, researchers analyzed data from the United Kingdom's National Health Service on 17,278,392 adults who were tracked for three months. During that time, 10,926 died from Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, or from complications related to the disease.

The researchers found that patients above the age of 80 were at least 20 times likelier to die from Covid-19 than patients in their 50s, and hundreds of times likelier to die from Covid-19 than patients younger than 40.

The researchers also found that men were about 59% more likely to die from Covid-19 than women. In addition, patients of racial and ethnic minorities—who made up around 11% of all patients tracked for the study—had a higher risk of dying from Covid-19 than white patients. The risk of dying from Covid-19 was especially high among Black and South Asian patients when compared with others, the researchers found.

The researchers also concluded that patients with underlying medical conditions—including respiratory disease, chronic heart disease, diabetes, and obesity—were more likely to die from Covid-19 when compared with otherwise healthy people. A person's likelihood of dying from Covid-19 also changed depending on their socioeconomic status, with people of a lower socioeconomic status having a higher risk of death, the researchers found.

Findings may not be 'surprising,' but are nonetheless 'astounding'

Public health experts say the study didn't necessarily provide any new information regarding Covid-19 risk factors, but given the study's size, the findings strengthen scientists' understanding of patients' risks.

"This highlights a lot of what we already know about Covid-19," Uchechi Mitchell, a public health expert at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who was not involved with the study, said. "But a lot of science is about repetition," he added. "The size of the study alone is a strength, and there is a need to continue documenting disparities."

Avonne Connor, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, who was not involved in the study, said the findings weren't necessarily surprising, but seeing the risk patterns among such a large dataset was "astounding" and "adds another layer to depicting who is at risk."

Julia Raifman, an epidemiologist at Boston University, who was not involved in the study, said the research helps to address "a real paucity of data on race," and shows that racial disparities in Covid-19 risk "are not just happening in the United States" (Wu, New York Times, 7/8).

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