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Being overweight is a major risk factor for those infected with coronavirus, leaving the U.S. particularly at risk, according to France’s chief epidemiologist Jean-François Delfraissy.

“This virus is terrible, it can hit young people, in particular obese young people. Those who are overweight really need to be careful,” Delfraissy told Franceinfo radio.

“That is why we’re worried about our friends in America, where the problem of obesity is well-known and where they will probably have the most problems because of obesity,” said Delfraissy, who heads the scientific council that advises the government on the epidemic.

Delfraissy said up to 25 percent of French citizens are at risk of severe coronavirus complications due to age, preexisting conditions or obesity. He said that the mortality rate for those with severe respiratory illness due to coronavirus was about 2 percent, but that rose to 14 percent for those who were more at risk, according to Reuters.

As of 2018, 42.4 percent of Americans were considered obese, according to figures provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Obesity was most prevalent in non-Hispanic blacks at 49.6 percent, followed by Hispanics at 42.2 percent, non-Hispanic Whites at 42.2 percent and Asians at 17.4 percent, Reuters reported.

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Obesity-related conditions — including heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer — are some of the leading causes of “preventable, premature” death, according to the CDC.

Obesity has been cited by health officials as a possible explanation for higher-than-average death rates in cities such as New Orleans. In Louisiana, 65.8 percent of residents are overweight or obese, according to CDC figures.

Last week the CDC released a report showing that 78 percent of COVID-19 patients in the ICU had an underlying health condition, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and chronic lung disease.

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Those who are obese are known to be more at risk for flu complications, but studies have also shown obese patients infected with the flu also shed the virus for a longer time than those who are not obese.

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