Review Launched on COVID-19, Ethnicity, Obesity, and Gender

Peter Russell

May 05, 2020

An analysis into why the severity of COVID-19 varies between people has been launched by Public Health England.

The urgent review aims to report findings by the end of May into how factors including ethnicity, social deprivation, age, gender, and obesity have a role to play.

"Increasing evidence and concern around the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on black and minority ethnic groups highlights an important focus of this review," said Prof Kevin Fenton, regional director of public health at PHE.

"PHE is rapidly building robust data and undertaking detailed analysis to develop our understanding of the impact of this novel coronavirus on different groups which can inform actions to mitigate the risks it presents."

The review will also look at vulnerable groups, such as the homeless and rough sleepers, to understand how the virus affects them and their health outcomes.

Other Research

A recent study led by the University of Liverpool suggested that men were much more likely to be admitted to hospital with COVID-19. The preprint also found that obesity was a significant factor associated with hospital deaths.

Other studies have suggested that people from ethnic minority backgrounds have been disproportionately affected by the disease.

Matt Hancock, the Health and Social Care Secretary, said at Monday's daily Downing Street briefing that the Government recognised "that there has been a disproportionately high number of people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds who have passed away, especially amongst, care workers and those in the NHS".

At the same briefing, Jonathan Van-Tam, England's deputy chief medical officer promised to "get to the bottom of this". However, he cautioned it was a complicated issue "because when you start to study patterns of disease across different ethnic groups, you also have to take into account potential differences in the age structure between groups, also differences in the patterns of underlying medical conditions, which we know do vary by ethnic group".

The Race Equality Foundation recently pointed out that particular groups of black and minority ethnic people have higher rates of long-term conditions associated with COVID-19 fatalities, including hypertension and diabetes.

According to PHE, the review will examine thousands of existing health records of people who have had COVID-19 to try to discover more robust data.

'Variety of Perspectives'

Emphasis would be initially placed on doctors and nurses to examine the outcome of infections for this cohort.

"PHE is engaging a wide range of external experts and independent advisors, representing diverse constituencies including devolved administrations, faith groups, voluntary and community sector organisations, local government, public health, academic, royal colleges, and others," said Prof Fenton.

"We are committed to hearing voices from a variety of perspectives on the impact of COVID-19 on people of different ethnicities."

Last month the National Institute for Health Research and UK Research and Innovation jointly called for research proposals to investigate emerging evidence of an association between ethnicity and COVID-19 incidence and adverse health outcomes.

The research brief acknowledged the complexities of an investigation highlighting the possibility of "multiple factors driving this association (such as genetic, socioeconomic, behavioural, cultural and religious, and environmental) and many potential confounding factors including comorbidity".


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