Low muscle mass and high visceral fat mass predict mortality in patients hospitalized with moderate-to-severe COVID-19: a prospective study

in Endocrine Connections
Authors:
Fabyan Esberard de Lima BeltrãoLauro Wanderley University Hospital, Federal University of Paraíba, João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil
Postgraduate Program in Nutritional Sciences, Department of Nutrition, Center for Health Sciences, Federal University of Paraíba, João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil
University Centre of João Pessoa (UNIPE), João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil

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Daniele Carvalhal de Almeida BeltrãoUniversity Centre of João Pessoa (UNIPE), João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil
Postgraduate Program in Cognitive Neuroscience and Behavior, Center for Health Sciences, Federal University of Paraíba, João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil

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Giulia CarvalhalCenter for Biological and Health Sciences, Federal University of Campina Grande, Campina Grande, Paraíba, Brazil

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Fabyo Napoleão de Lima BeltrãoDepartment of Medicine, Faculty of Medical Sciences, João Pessoa, Brazil

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Igor Motta de AquinoMetropolitan Hospital Dom José Maria Pires, Santa Rita, Paraíba, Brazil

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Thaíse da Silva BritoNew Hope Medical School – FAMENE, João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil

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Barbara Costa PaulinoPostgraduate Program in Nutritional Sciences, Department of Nutrition, Center for Health Sciences, Federal University of Paraíba, João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil

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Elisa AiresPostgraduate Program in Interactive Processes of Organs and Systems, Health & Science Institute, Federal University of Bahia, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

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Diana ViegasInternal Medicine Department, rede UniFTC, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

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Fabio HechtThe Institute of Biophysics Carlos Chagas Filho, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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Bruno HalpernWeight Control Centre, Hospital 9 de Julho, São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil

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Liana Clebia De Morais PordeusPostgraduate Program in Cognitive Neuroscience and Behavior, Center for Health Sciences, Federal University of Paraíba, João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil

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Maria da Conceição Rodrigues GonçalvesPostgraduate Program in Nutritional Sciences, Department of Nutrition, Center for Health Sciences, Federal University of Paraíba, João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil

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Helton Estrela RamosPostgraduate Program in Interactive Processes of Organs and Systems, Health & Science Institute, Federal University of Bahia, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
Department of Biorregulation, Health Sciences Institute, Federal University of Bahia, Bahia, Brazil
Postgraduate Program in Medicine and Health, Medical School of Medicine, Federal University of Bahia, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

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Correspondence should be addressed to H E Ramos: ramoshelton@gmail.com
Open access

Introduction

The severity of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has been positively correlated with several comorbidities. The primary outcome of the study was to assess the relationship between the mortality and severity of COVID-19 and obesity classes according to BMI, visceral adipose tissue (VAT) area, s.c. adipose tissue area, muscle area (MA), and leptin levels.

Methods

In this prospective cohort study, 200 patients hospitalized with moderate-to-severe COVID-19 underwent an unenhanced CT of the thorax and laboratory tests, and leptin levels between June and August 2020 were obtained.

Results

Our study included 200 patients (male 52%; mean age: 62 (49–74) years; obesity (BMI > 30): 51.5%)). Fifty-eight patients (23.5%) were admitted to the intensive care unit and 29 (14.5%) died. In multivariate logistic regression (corrected for leptin, sex, age, and serum biomarkers) and receiver operating characteristic curve analyses, high VAT > 150 cm2 (odds ratio (OR): 6.15; P < 0.002), MA < 92 cm2 (OR: 7.94; P < 0.005), and VAT/MA ratio > 2 (OR: 13.9; P < 0.0001) were independent risk factors for mortality. Indeed, the Kaplan–Meier curves showed that patients with MA < 92 cm2 and without obesity (BMI < 30) had a lower survival rate (hazard ratio between 3.89 and 9.66; P < 0.0006) than the other groups. Leptin levels were not related to mortality and severity.

Conclusion

This prospective study reports data on the largest number of hospitalized severe COVID-19 patients and pinpoints VAT area and MA calculated by CT as predictors of COVID-19 mortality.

Abstract

Introduction

The severity of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has been positively correlated with several comorbidities. The primary outcome of the study was to assess the relationship between the mortality and severity of COVID-19 and obesity classes according to BMI, visceral adipose tissue (VAT) area, s.c. adipose tissue area, muscle area (MA), and leptin levels.

Methods

In this prospective cohort study, 200 patients hospitalized with moderate-to-severe COVID-19 underwent an unenhanced CT of the thorax and laboratory tests, and leptin levels between June and August 2020 were obtained.

Results

Our study included 200 patients (male 52%; mean age: 62 (49–74) years; obesity (BMI > 30): 51.5%)). Fifty-eight patients (23.5%) were admitted to the intensive care unit and 29 (14.5%) died. In multivariate logistic regression (corrected for leptin, sex, age, and serum biomarkers) and receiver operating characteristic curve analyses, high VAT > 150 cm2 (odds ratio (OR): 6.15; P < 0.002), MA < 92 cm2 (OR: 7.94; P < 0.005), and VAT/MA ratio > 2 (OR: 13.9; P < 0.0001) were independent risk factors for mortality. Indeed, the Kaplan–Meier curves showed that patients with MA < 92 cm2 and without obesity (BMI < 30) had a lower survival rate (hazard ratio between 3.89 and 9.66; P < 0.0006) than the other groups. Leptin levels were not related to mortality and severity.

Conclusion

This prospective study reports data on the largest number of hospitalized severe COVID-19 patients and pinpoints VAT area and MA calculated by CT as predictors of COVID-19 mortality.

Introduction

A multisystem infectious disease is caused by the new severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) (1). To enter the host cell, SARS-CoV-2 binds to the cellular receptor of the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). ACE2 expression in the adipose tissue is greater than that in lung tissue, which means that adipose tissue may be vulnerable to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection (1, 2, 3).

Obesity seems to predispose patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection to increased severity of this disease, including hospitalization, intensive care unit (ICU) admission, orotracheal intubations, and death (4, 5). BMI is commonly used to assess obesity, but fat distribution (visceral and s.c.) and body composition (the percentage of fat and fat-free mass) are risk factors considered more accurate than BMI to assess cardiometabolic risk (6, 7); indeed, there is evidence that differences in both body composition and fat distribution lead to different COVID-19 outcomes (8).

As an example, low lean mass and sarcopenia, although markers of frailty and aging, have also been independently associated with COVID-19 severity (9); importantly, obesity and sarcopenia can coexist in the same individual, worsening the overall prognosis (10). In large medical centers around the world, the prevalence of patients with obesity admitted to the ICU was over 40% of the occupied beds (11, 12) and greater than 60% in sarcopenic patients (13, 14).

Regarding visceral fat, a small research study used low-dose chest CT in hospitalized patients and observed that every 10 cm2 increase in visceral fat was associated with a 1.37-fold higher likelihood of ICU (14, 15).

In an Italian study, VAT was independently (multivariate logistic regression) associated with the need for intensive care in patients with COVID-19 (odds ratio (OR): 2.47; 95% CI: 1.01–6.01; P = 0.046) (8). Visceral fat is a proxy of ectopic fat deposition and is associated with insulin resistance, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, and overall systemic inflammation, factors that could have a causal role in the overall worse prognosis seen in epidemiological studies (16, 17).

Several techniques have been developed to assess muscle mass and different types of fat, among which dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, CT, and MRI provide a more accurate estimation of assessing body composition, as well as the area and density of these body tissues (18).

Leptin is a peptide produced mainly in adipose tissue that has structural similarities to members of the family of long-chain helical cytokines. Leptin acts by decreasing appetite and stimulating thermogenesis, in addition to participating in several physiological processes, including inflammation, angiogenesis, hematopoiesis, osteogenesis, reproduction, and immune function (19, 20). Nonetheless, in obesity, leptin is almost universally high, and obesity is considered a state of leptin resistance. Zhang and coworkers studied the pathogenesis of 2009 influenza A (H1N1) infection in a high-fat diet-induced obesity model in mice and found that hyperleptinemia was associated with increased mortality, viral shedding, and severe lung injury caused by H1N1 (21).

Our primary objective was to analyze the association between body composition (derived from thoracic CT), leptin levels, mortality, immunological changes, and outcomes in moderate-to-severe COVID-19 hospitalized patients.

Materials and methods

Subjects and data collection

Our study was an offshoot of another study designed to assess thyroid dysfunction in patients with inhospital COVID-19 (22). An observational, longitudinal, and prospective cohort study was conducted between June and August 2020, and we enrolled 200 consecutive patients with confirmed COVID-19 admitted to the Hospital Metropolitano Dom José Maria Pires, a tertiary referral hospital in João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil (Supplementary Fig. 1, see section on supplementary materials given at the end of this article). A written consent form was obtained from the participants or a legal representative. The study was approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee of the Lauro Wanderley University Hospital (CAAE: 31562720.9.0000.5183).

Inclusion and exclusion criteria

All patients tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 using the real-time quantitative reverse-transcriptase-PCR (rRT-qPCR) with samples from the respiratory tract and, in cases of negative rRT-qPCR, using clinical, radiological, and serological (IgG positive for SARS-CoV-2) criteria. The rRT-qPCR kit used was the Biomol OneStep COVID-19 kit (IBMP, Paraná, Brazil). Patients with a history of thyroid disease, who used iodinated contrast in the last 6 months or drugs that interfere with thyroid metabolism, and diagnosis of pregnancy were excluded.

Procedures

The detailed clinical information of each patient was obtained by physicians using a standard questionnaire. Upon admission of patients to the hospital, the Quick Sepsis-Related Organ Failure Assessment (q-SOFA) scale and the National Early Warning Score 2 (NEWS2) scale were used.

All cases were from moderate-to-severe patients who were divided into two clinical classifications: noncritical and critical. For noncritical cases, patients who met any of the following criteria were considered: respiratory rate > 30 cycles/min, oxygen saturation <93% at rest, partial arterial oxygen pressure (PaO2)/oxygen concentration (FiO2) < 300 mmHg, and extension of lung injury by COVID-19 estimated >50%. Critical outcomes were defined as ICU care or death.

Serum biochemistry

All the 200 patients underwent assessment of leptin, interleukin-6 (IL6), d-dimer, alanine aminotransferase (ALT), aspartate aminotransferase, creatinine, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH). Leptin was measured with an ELISA (DiaSorin, Inc., Stillwater, Minnesota, USA). The method used in the other exams was automated chemiluminescence (MAGLUMI-2000-PLUS; Shenzhen New Industries Biomedical Engineering Co., Shenzhen, China). Measurements were performed according to the manufacturer’s protocol.

The number of neutrophils and lymphocytes, the neutrophil–lymphocyte ratio (NLR), and hemoglobin levels of all patients were recorded.

Image analysis

The patients underwent CT scans of the thorax to diagnose suspected SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia. We considered the following thoracic CT patterns: ground-glass opacity, mosaic attenuation, and consolidation. In all cases, a semiquantitative CT severity score was proposed by Pan and coworkers (23). All chest CT scans were performed using a 64-detector CT scanner (Revolution EVO, General Electric) with the following parameters: 120 kV, 350 mAs, rotation time 0.4 s, pitch 1.5, and slice thickness 2–5 mm. The technical parameters of CT acquisition were adjusted according to the clinical problem under investigation and patient body size.

The assessment of the visceral adipose tissue (VAT) area, s.c. adipose tissue (SAT) area, and muscle area (MA) with thorax CT was performed by an experienced radiologist (more than 10 years) using AW VolumeShare 7 (General Electric Healthcare) and 3DSlicer® software (The Slicer Community, Harvard, MA, USA) and a previously described method (15). To quantify visceral and s.c. abdominal fat and MA (abdominal muscles excluding the psoas muscle), the first slice in which the lung bases were no longer visible at the thoracoabdominal level (between T12 and L2) was selected. On each image, a region of interest (ROI) was manually drawn over the abdominal wall to delineate the interface between the abdominal wall and the abdominal fat. No extreme precision is needed in this phase because the difference in density/intensity between the abdominal wall and the abdominal fat is high on CT. The region growing (segmentation) algorithm was selected, thus allowing the segmentation ROIs to be drawn with a semiautomated method.

The tissue cross-sectional areas were analyzed using tissue-specific Hounsfield unit (HU) attenuation ranges, which were defined according to the values established in the literature: (i) VAT to SAT between –50 and –250 HU and (ii) skeletal muscle between –29 and 150 HU. Regarding the muscular component, the erector muscles of the spine, latissimus dorsi, external and internal oblique, rectus abdominis, and external and internal intercostal muscles were evaluated (15, 24). Data for the selected tissue, including surface area, were expressed in square centimeters (cm2), and the relative distribution of abdominal adipose tissue was assessed by using the VAT/SAT ratio (Supplementary Fig. 1).

Statistical analysis

To calculate the sample size, the GPower 3.1.9.7 software (Heinrich-Heine-Universität, Düsseldorf, Germany) was used. As significance criteria, alpha = 0.05, power = 0.95, and F2 = 0.10 were assumed, and the proposed minimum sample size was 158 patients. Data were expressed as median ± interquartile range. In the quantitative analysis, nonparametric tests were used: Mann–Whitney test for only two variables and Kruskal–Wallis test followed by Dunn’s multiple comparisons test for more than two variables. In the nonparametric qualitative analyses, the Fisher’s test was employed. Spearman’s test was applied to assess the linear correlation coefficient between the analyzed variables, and univariate and multivariate logistic regression analyses were used to assess the relative risk of mortality.

To assess the prognostic impact of the variables on inhospital mortality, Kaplan–Meier survival analysis and receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve analysis were used with the estimation of the area under the curve, sensitivity, and specificity of the variables in relation to mortality. A significance level of P < 0.05 was accepted as statistically significant. GraphPad Prism version 7.00 (2016) was used to perform the statistical tests.

Results

A total of 274 adult patients admitted with COVID-19 in a reference hospital were considered eligible for the study, and after evaluating the inclusion and exclusion criteria, 200 consecutive patients remained in the study (Fig. 1). During follow-up, the average length of stay of patients in hospital was 8.5 days, 44 (22%) patients were admitted to the ICU, and 29 (14.5%) patients died. The median age of patients was 62 (50 –74) years and 113 patients (56.5%) were male (Table 1).

Figure 1
Figure 1

Flowchart of the study. COVID-19, coronavirus disease-19; IL6, interleukin-6.

Citation: Endocrine Connections 11, 10; 10.1530/EC-22-0290

Table 1

Demographic and clinical characteristics of the cohort in noncritical and critical patients and their association with mortality.

Variables Total (n  = 200) Severity Univariate logistic regression
Mortality
Noncritical (n  = 152) Critical (n  = 48) P value OR 95% CI P value
Median age (years) (IQR) 62 (50–74) 61.5 (49–73.75) 64.5 (50.5–76) 0.190 1.021 0.993–1.050 0.139
Age > 60 years, n (%) 109 (54.5) 78 (51.3) 31 (64.5) 0.134 1.710 0.765–4.030 0.201
Male, n (%) 113 (56.5) 90 (59.2) 23 (47.9) 0.1845 0.678 0.305–1.499 0.335
Comorbidities
Hypertension, n (%) 133 (66.5) 97 (63.8) 36 (75) 0.165 1.383 0.596–3.495 0.529
 Diabetes mellitus, n (%) 97 (48.5) 69 (45.3) 28 (58.3) 0.137 1.611 0.730–3.653 0.241
 Obesity, n (%) 101 (50.5) 87 (57.2) 14 (29.1) 0.0009 0.892 0.247–2.539 0.844
 Heart disease, n (%) 26 (13) 23 (15.1) 3 (6.2) 0.141 0.423 0.096–1.296 0.017
 Neoplasm, n (%) 2 (1) 1 (0.6) 1 (2.0) 0.423 6.071 0.235–156.4 0.206
 Chronic lung disease, n (%) 10 (5) 9 (5.9) 1 (2.0) 0.45 0.642 0.034–3.623 0.687
Complications
Use of vasoactive drugs, n (%) 21 (10.5) 1 (0.6) 20 (41.6) <0.0001 59.1 18.7–232 <0.0001
 Ventilation, n (%) 24 (12) 0 (0) 24 (50) <0.0001 265 63–1890 <0.0001
 Admission to the ICU, n (%) 44 (22) 0 (0) 59 (89.4) <0.0001 50 17.2–184 <0.0001
Length of stay in the hospital (days), median (IQR) 6 (4–10) 5 (4–7) 11 (7.25–17) <0.0001 1.146 1.087–1216 <0.0001
Scores systems
NEWS2 score, median (IQR) 6 (5–7) 6 (5–7) 5 (5–7) 0.631 1.055 0.857–1.298 0.609
 q-SOFA score, median (IQR) 1 (1–1) 1 (1–1) 1 (1–1) 0.111 1.831 0.781–4.590 0.177
 CT COVID score, median (IQR) 20 (15–20) 20 (15–20) 20 (15–20) 0.176 1.069 0.989–1.177 0.127

The Mann–Whitney test was performed for continuous variables (age, NEWS2, q-SOFA, and CT COVID-19 score), while Fisher’s exact test was performed for all other variables.

COVID, coronavirus disease; ICU, intensive care unit; IQR: interquartile range; NEWS2, National Early Warning Score 2; OR, odds ratio; q-SOFA, Quick Sepsis-Related Organ Failure Assessment.

Statistical analysis was performed to investigate the risk factors associated with severity and inhospital mortality in patients with COVID-19. There was no significant difference between the risk factors assessed (age, sex, arterial hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) regarding severity and mortality. Obesity (BMI ≥ 30) indicated a significant difference in disease severity, with a higher prevalence among noncritical patients (57.2%) compared to critical patients (29.1%) (P  = 0.0009). In the univariate logistic regression for the mortality analysis, only heart disease showed a significant difference among the other comorbidities (Table 1).

BMI analysis showed that 101 (50.5%) patients had obesity (BMI > 30 kg/m2), with 42 (21%) with severe obesity (BMI ≥ 35 kg/m2), while only 28 (14%) of the patients had a BMI lower than 25 kg/m2 and 71 patients were overweight (35.5%). The median SAT area was 161.4 cm2 and the median VAT area was 127 cm2, with a median VAT/SAT ratio of 0.83. The median MA was 89.6 cm2 and the median VAT/MA ratio was 1.47 (Table 2).

Table 2

Tomographic and laboratory variables evaluated in noncritical and critical patients and their association with mortality.

Mann–Whitney test Univariate logistic regression
Severity Mortality
Total Noncritical Critical P OR 95% CI P
n Median (IQR) n Median (IQR) n Median (IQR)
BMI 200 30.0 (26.8–34.3) 152 30.6 (27.2–34.5) 48 28.5 (26–31.1) 0.0265 0.97 0.914–1.036 0.094
VAT (cm2) 200 127 (85.8–180.5) 152 124.6 (81.2–178.9) 48 151.4 (105.5–190.7) 0.154 1.005 0.999–1.010 0.034
SAT (cm2) 200 161.4 (102.4–217.7) 152 163.7 (102.9–218.5) 48 136.2 (100.6–205.5) 0.349 0.997 0.992–1.002 0.201
VAT/SAT 200 0.83 (0.54–1.29) 152 0.78 (0.48–1.27) 48 1.01 (0.67–1.41) 0.0354 1.998 1.191–3.336 0.0055
MA (cm2) 200 89.6 (75.5–112) 152 91.6 (76.9–115.8) 48 83 (69.8– 101.3) 0.025 0.928 0.900–0.952 <0.0001
VAT/MA 200 1.47 (0.96–1.96) 152 1.32 (0.92–1.89) 48 1.73 (1.39–2.18) 0.0033 5.213 2.890–10.43 <0.0001
IL6 (pg/mL) 199 54.1 (24.1–104.3) 151 54.1 (23–98.4) 48 55 (27.2–124.2) 0.5715 0.999 0.998–1.001 0.334
d-dimer (ng/mL) 198 795.4 (498 – 1682) 152 728 (485.1– 1359) 46 1410 (609.9–3596) 0.0038 1.000 1.000–1.000 0.0223
Leptin (ng/mL) 200 4.6 (1.8–9.3) 152 4.7 (1.8–9) 48 4.3 (1.4–9.5) 0.8179 0.966 0.897–1.021 0.625
LDH (U/L) 190 735 (559.5–1006) 144 702.5 (550.3–959.3) 46 822.5 (580.8–1169) 0.0243 1.001 1.000–1.002 0.03
hs-CRP (mg/dL) 184 86.1 (37.8–150.8) 138 71 (34–139.2) 46 139.5 (49.1–184.1) 0.0104 1.011 1.005–1.018 0.0014
ALT (U/L) 195 61 (38.6–101) 148 67 (41.0–101.8) 47 49 (23.0–94.0) 0.0413 0.993 0.984–1.001 0.04
AST (U/L) 195 54 (37.0–80.0) 148 54 (37.0–81.5) 47 48 (36.0–77.0) 0.6198 0.995 0.985–1.003 0.400
Neutrophils (×10³cells/µL) 200 7199 (5261–9497) 152 6746 (5162–8938) 48 8617 (6399–11321) 0.006 1.000 1.000–1.000 0.0009
NLR 200 9.11 (6.02–14.6) 152 8.63 (5.6–14.2) 48 9.5 (7.98–17.6) 0.0743 1.055 1.002–1.110 0.0061
Albumin (mg/dL) 200 3.3 (3.0–3.7) 152 3.3 (3.0–3.7) 48 3.3 (2.7–3.6) 0.2056 0.526 0.234–1.143 0.221
Creatinine (mg/dL) 195 1.1 (0.88–1.35) 150 1.1 (0.9–1.35) 45 1.06 (0.8–1.35) 0.4084 1.009 0.682–1.191 0.933

Mann–Whitney test and Univariate logistic regression (mortality) analysis were performed for all variables.

ALT, alanine transaminase; AST, aspartate transaminase; hs-CRP, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein; IL6, interleukin-6; IQR, interquartile range; LDH, lactate dehydrogenase; MA, muscle area; NLR, neutrophil–lymphocyte ratio; OR, odds ratio; SAT, s.c. adipose tissue area; VAT, visceral adipose tissue area.

Clinical outcomes

Regarding complications, patients admitted to the ICU or who progressed to a state of shock of any etiology or who required mechanical ventilation during hospitalization had high inhospital mortality. We did not find any significant difference between the scores assessed on patient admission (NEWS2, q-SOFA, and CT COVID19) and mortality, and disease severity (Table 1). In Spearman’s correlation analyses, leptin showed a directly proportional relationship in descending order with SAT, BMI, VAT/MA, and VAT and inversely proportional relationship with the VAT/SAT ratio. The greatest correlation between variables was between BMI vs SAT (r = 0.664) and BMI vs MA (r = 0.435) (Fig. 2A).

Figure 2
Figure 2

Tomographic and laboratory variables of 200 COVID-19 hospitalized patients collected during the first 48 h of admission (Spearman’s correlation and bar chart). (A) Spearman’s correlation. (B) Bar chart depicting sample number with (+) and without (−) the parameter below the cutoff (BMI > 30, MA < 92) in patients with COVID-19 (survivors vs nonsurvivors) and highlighting the proportion of nonsurvivor. Statistics used: Spearman’s correlation. COVID-19, coronavirus disease-19; hs-CRP, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein; IL6, interleukin-6; LDH, lactate dehydrogenase; MA, muscle area; NEWS2, National Early Warning Score 2; NLR, neutrophil–lymphocyte ratio; q-SOFA, Quick Sepsis-Related Organ Failure Assessment; SAT, s.c. adipose tissue area; VAT, visceral adipose tissue area.

Citation: Endocrine Connections 11, 10; 10.1530/EC-22-0290

Regarding the tomographic variables, in the evaluation by the Mann–Whitney test, the MA was significantly reduced in critical patients compared to noncritical patients, and VAT/SAT and VAT/MA ratios were higher in critically ill patients. Regarding the laboratory variables, d-dimer, hs-CRP, LDH, ALT, leukocytes, neutrophils, and NRL also showed a significant difference in the disease severity. However, the variables leptin, IL6, albumin, SAT, and creatinine showed no significant difference (Table 2).

Supplementary Table 1 summarizes the comparison between patients with different body compositions (obesity and MA < 92 cm2). The comparison showed that age, VAT, SAT, VAT/SAT, MA, VAT/MA, leptin, d-dimer, ALT, and creatinine were significantly different between groups. A bar graph of the same data also illustrates these points; the mortality rate was higher in the sarcopenic group (MA < 92 cm2) without obesity than in the sarcopenic obesity group (28.2% vs 12.5%, P = 0.0004) (Fig. 2B).

Kaplan–Meier curves showed that patients with age > 70 years, MA < 92 cm2, and without obesity (BMI < 30) had lower survival rate (hazard ratio (HR) 2.3–9.66; P < 0.0006) than the other groups. The group with the best survival rate was patients with obesity with MA > 92 cm2 and age < 70 years (Fig. 3A and B).

Figure 3
Figure 3

Kaplan–Meier curves for predicting mortality in patients with COVID-19 (age, obesity, and MA < 92 cm2). COVID-19, coronavirus disease-19; HR, hazard ratio; MA, muscle area.

Citation: Endocrine Connections 11, 10; 10.1530/EC-22-0290

Next, Figure 4A shows VAT, SAT, MA, VAT/MA, and VAT/SAT results among survivor and nonsurvivor patients. The mortality rates were bubble plotted considering MA and VAT. Notably, survival and shorter length of stay segregated with high MA and low VAT, whereas mortality and longer length of stay segregated with high VAT and low MA (Fig. 4B).

Figure 4
Figure 4

Tomographic and laboratory variables of 200 COVID-19 hospitalized patients collected during the first 48 h of admission. (A) Heatmap showing tomographic variable (VAT, SAT, MA, VAT/MA, and VAT/SAT) classification below, within, and above normal range in patients with COVID-19 (survivors vs nonsurvivors). (B) Bubble plot displaying the MA and VAT in patients with COVID-19 (survivors vs nonsurvivors). (C) Mortality risk ROC curve and AUC score with parameters of VAT, MA, VAT/MA, VAT/SAT. COVID-19, coronavirus disease-19; MA, muscle area; ROC, receiver operating characteristic; SAT, s.c. adipose tissue area; VAT, visceral adipose tissue area.

Citation: Endocrine Connections 11, 10; 10.1530/EC-22-0290

We analyzed the potential of these tomographic and laboratory variables as predictors of mortality due to COVID-19, using the ROC curve (Fig. 4C and Table 3). The variables that were individually shown to be potential markers of mortality in descending order (P  < 0.05) were VAT/MA, MA, hs-CRP, number of neutrophils, VAT/SAT ratio, NLR, d-dimer, LDH, VAT, and age. The variable with the highest sensitivity was MA (0.86), while the VAT/SAT ratio had the highest specificity (0.86). Next, using the cutoff value for each parameter, we calculated the OR of mortality using the Fisher’s exact test. The cutoff points for MA < 92 cm2 (OR: 6.17), VAT/MA ratio > 2 cm2 (OR: 6.84), hs-CRP > 70 mg/dL (OR: 4.48), and number of neutrophils > 8185 (OR: 4.33) represented the highest relative risks for inhospital mortality in our study (Table 3).

Table 3

Variables analyzed as potential mortality biomarkers – ROC curve.

Variables ROC curve Cutoff characterization Fisher’s exact test
AUC 95% CI Cutoff Sensitivity Specificity P value OR 95% CI P value
Age 0.58 0.47– 0.69 >70 0.51 0.71 0.143 2.45 1.14–5.31 0.0329
BMI 0.59 0.48–0.70 <30 0.75 0.55 0.094 3.83 1.54–9.99 0.0024
VAT 0.62 0.51–0.73 >150 0.69 0.62 0.034 3.44 1.47–8.41 0.0041
SAT 0.57 0.46–0.68 <145 0.69 0.58 0.203 2.74 1.19–6.12 0.015
VAT/SAT 0.66 0.55–0. 77 >1.57 0.34 0.86 0.005 3.38 1.36–8.12 0.011
MA 0.69 0.59–0.79 <92 0.86 0.49 0.0007 6.17 2.15–16.95 0.0002
VAT/MA 0.74 0.63–0.85 >2.0 0.62 0.80 <0.0001 6.84 3.01–15.22 <0.0001
Leptin 0.52 0.41–0.63 <4.15 0.51 0.53 0.62 1.24 0.59–2.65 0.68
Albumin (g/dL) 0.57 0.45–0.69 <2.85 0.34 0.84 0.22 2.93 1.20–6.86 0.018
hs-CRP (mg/dL) 0.69 0.57–0.80 >70 0.82 0.49 0.0014 4.48 1.69–11.21 0.0019
LDH (U/L) 0.63 0.50–0.75 >714 0.78 0.50 0.03 3.45 1.39–8.67 0.011
d-dimer (ng/mL) 0.63 0.51–0.74 >946 0.64 0.60 0.02 2.63 1.12–5.95 0.023
IL6 (pg/mL) 0.55 0.43–0.67 >130 0.34 0.85 0.33 3.07 1.25–7.24 0.015
Neutrophils 0.69 0.59–0.79 >8.185 0.69 0.66 0.0007 4.33 1.83–10.62 0.0007
NRL 0.65 0.55–0.76 >15 0.41 0.83 0.006 3.45 1.50–7.79 0.0052

ROC curve analysis and Fisher’s exact test were performed for all variables.

AUC, area under the curve; hs-CRP, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein; IL6, interleukin-6; LDH, lactate dehydrogenase; MA, muscle area; NLR, neutrophil–lymphocyte ratio; OR, odds ratio; ROC, receiver operating characteristic; SAT, s.c. adipose tissue; VAT, visceral adipose tissue.

We next used univariate and multivariate regression analyses (adjusted by other variables) to calculate the mortality OR by using cutoff values obtained from the ROC curve (Table 3). Patients with MA < 92 cm2 during admission were associated with a 6.17-fold increase in the odds of mortality (95% CI: 2.27–21, P = 0.0011) in univariate regression and 7.94 times (95% CI: 2.08–38.6, P = 0.0046) in the multivariate regression. Patients with a VAT/MA ratio >2 cm2 were associated with 6.84 times (95% CI: 2.99–16, P < 0.0001) and 13.9 times (95% CI: 4.4–52, P < 0.0001) of increased chance of lethality in univariate and multivariate logistic regression analyses, respectively (Table 4).

Table 4

Univariate and multivariate regression analyses between variables.

Variable Univariate logistic regression Multiunivariate logistic regression Multiunivariate logistic regression Multiunivariate logistic regression
Mortality Mortalitya Mortalityb Mortalityc
OR 95% CI P value OR 95% CI P value OR 95% CI P value OR 95% CI P value
Age > 70 years 2.45 1.10–5.50 0.027 2.51 1.12–5.67 0.024 1.85 0.68–4.98 0.21
VAT > 150 cm2 3.44 1.52–8.38 0.01 3.54 1.55–8.66 0.0031 3.32 1.46–8.11 0.005 6.15 1.96–21.88 0.0018
SAT < 145 cm2 2.74 1.22–6.47 0.01 2.62 1.10–6.64 0.03 2.56 1.13–6.11 0.026 2.89 1.03–8.58 0.046
VAT/SAT > 1.57 3.38 1.36–8.10 0.006 3.19 1.27–7.74 0.011 3.12 1.24–7.56 0.012 4.47 1.21–17.26 0.02
MA < 92 cm2 6.17 2.27–21 0.0011 6.52 2.39–22.9 0.0009 6.06 2.1–22.2 0.002 7.94 2.08–38.6 0.0046
VAT/MA > 2.0 6.84 2.99–16 <0.0001 7.4 3.19–18 <0.0001 6.48 2.78–15.7 <0.0001 13.9 4.4–52 < 0.0001

aAdjusted for leptin; bAdjusted for age; cAdjusted for age, sex, leptin, neutrophil (×10³cells/μL), NLR, albumin, hs-CRP, LDH, d-dimer, and IL6.

hs-CRP, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein; IL, interleukin-6; LDH, lactate dehydrogenase; MA, muscle area; NLR, neutrophil–lymphocyte ratio; OR, odds ratio; SAT, s.c. adipose tissue area; VAT, visceral adipose tissue area.

Discussion

The COVID-19 pandemic presented an unprecedented challenge to the worldwide health-care system. With the scarcity of resources in the health area, the early identification of risk factors associated with the severity and mortality of COVID-19 is crucial. To date, this is the largest prospective study of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in which body composition, fat distribution, and serum leptin levels were evaluated and correlated.

In our study, VAT and MA were the main parameters related to mortality from COVID-19, and the SAT/MA ratio corresponded to the best variable in the study, with an area of 0.74 in the ROC curve (Table 3). SAT in isolation was not related to mortality, and BMI presented a low area of the ROC curve (0.59). Therefore, patients who had an SAT/MA ratio > 2.0 had a relative risk of inhospital death increased to 6.84 times, and when adjusted for age, sex, leptin, and other laboratory tests, the risk increased to 13.9 (Table 4).

The association of VAT and MA with worse outcomes is not unexpected, based on previous research on death (4, 5), but what our study found was a very significant OR, which was a better predictor than several other more recognized markers of severity, such as age and inflammatory markers. Indeed, low MA, and sarcopenia itself, could be a marker of vulnerability and aging, but even after adjustment of confounders, such as age itself, its relation remains highly significant. As such, one hypothesis raised by our results is that age-related worse prognosis in COVID-19 could be mediated by sarcopenia. Although age is an objective measure, different life-course stressors could mean that individuals with the same biological age will have extremely different health risks, especially in low- and middle-income countries, like Brazil (25). As such, although much more difficult to measure, low MA could be a better predictor of overall health and outcomes than age itself.

Visceral fat is associated with insulin resistance, worse metabolic health, and systemic inflammation; many authors have discussed that fat distribution itself would be a better marker of worse outcomes in COVID-19, and research helps to corroborate that hypothesis (26, 27, 28). In the Kaplan–Meier curve, we observed in our study that the group of patients without obesity (BMI < 30) and with MA < 92 cm2 had the highest inhospital mortality with a risk ratio of 9.66 regarding patients with obesity and muscle mass > 92 cm2, which corresponded to the group with the lowest mortality (Fig. 3).

Interestingly, in our study, obesity was a protective risk factor for disease severity and neutral for mortality (Table 1), which suggests that weight itself is a poor marker of overall health status. Nonetheless, the prevalence of obesity was 50.5% (Table 1) in our cohort, which is almost two and a half times higher than in the general population of Brazil (20.3%) (29). The prevalence of obesity was higher in noncritical patients (45.3%) than in critically ill patients (29.1%) (P = 0.0009) (Table 1). Moreover, the Kaplan–Meier curve (Fig. 3B) curve showed that patients with obesity and low muscle mass have higher mortality than patients with obesity and normal muscle mass (HR = 3.9, P = 0.0006). Low muscle mass was more important than comorbidities associated with COVID-19 in hospitalized patients in our region. These findings suggest the importance of lower muscle mass compared to BMI obesity and that obesity is indeed a risk factor for hospitalizations, as many other studies have shown.

Recently, in a meta-analysis with 75 studies evaluated (mostly retrospective studies), it was found that patients with obesity were more likely to have unfavorable outcomes regarding COVID-19. Obesity significantly increased the chance of admission to the ICU by 74% and increased the chance of death by 48% (4). However, in the same meta-analysis, the authors cited eight studies that showed that individuals with obesity had a lower risk of inhospital mortality; this could be attributed to differences in the overall characteristics of the population (age, comorbidities, and access to health), as well as in criteria for hospitalization. Further studies to analyze the true context of obesity and its peculiarities as a risk factor in morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 are essential, especially in food transition developing countries.

However, only a few studies analyzed and correlated body composition with COVID-19 severity and mortality. A retrospective study conducted in China with 143 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 showed visceral adiposity (OR: 2.47, P = 0.040) and high i.m. fat concentration (OR: 11.90, P < 0.001) as independent risk factors for critical illness (30). Recently, Pranata and coworkers (2020) evaluated five studies (539 patients) in a meta-analysis and demonstrated that patients with severe COVID-19 had higher VAT values and total fat tissue area, but not SAT, in relation to patients with nonsevere COVID-19 (31).

In our study, leptin was not associated with severity and inhospital mortality due to COVID-19. Leptin was mainly correlated with SAT and BMI and, inversely, with the length of hospital stay. Leptin is a keystone in regulating the metabolism–immune system interaction. Previous studies have suggested that leptin increases the production of T-helper 1 (Th1) inflammatory cytokines and suppresses Th2 anti-inflammatory cytokines by T lymphocytes (32).

In the literature review, only four studies evaluated leptin levels in patients with COVID-19 (33, 34, 35, 36). However, the four studies had major limitations, such as the small number of patients. In our study, leptin was not statistically correlated with IL6 and hs-CRP. Similar to leptin, IL6 was not directly related to inhospital mortality (Tables 2 and 3). Recently, a review and meta-analysis questioned some important points about the pathogenesis of COVID-19. Elevations of inflammatory cytokines (mainly IL6) in critically ill patients with COVID-19 are considerably lower than those reported in patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome and are nonrelated to COVID-19. However, several noncytokine biomarkers associated with chronic inflammation or endothelial dysfunction, such as hs-CRP, d-dimer, and ferritin, are higher in patients with COVID-19 than in patients with other serious nonCOVID-19 diseases (37). The major limitations of our study were (i) the absence of a healthy control group or patients with mild symptoms to correlate with the researched results and (ii) the lack of standardization in the imaging techniques (thoracic CT) adopted in our study to distinguish the different types of tissues analyzed (fat and muscle). Additionally, it is necessary to standardize the index or cutoff points for the diagnosis of sarcopenia and visceral obesity, based on sufficient evidence and international consensus.

In summary, to date, this work represents a prospective study with the largest number of hospitalized patients that linked body composition and leptin levels with mortality and other biomarkers related to COVID-19. We conclude that low muscle mass and increased fat mass, especially visceral, were better predictors of inhospital COVID-19 mortality than BMI, as well as leptin.

Supplementary materials

This is linked to the online version of the paper at https://doi.org/10.1530/EC-22-0290.

Declaration of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest that could be perceived as prejudicing the impartiality of the research reported.

Funding

This work did not receive any specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sector.

Acknowledgements

The authors thank all the patients who participated in this study and all the health-care professionals for their efforts in taking care of these patients.

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    Figure 1

    Flowchart of the study. COVID-19, coronavirus disease-19; IL6, interleukin-6.

  • View in gallery
    Figure 2

    Tomographic and laboratory variables of 200 COVID-19 hospitalized patients collected during the first 48 h of admission (Spearman’s correlation and bar chart). (A) Spearman’s correlation. (B) Bar chart depicting sample number with (+) and without (−) the parameter below the cutoff (BMI > 30, MA < 92) in patients with COVID-19 (survivors vs nonsurvivors) and highlighting the proportion of nonsurvivor. Statistics used: Spearman’s correlation. COVID-19, coronavirus disease-19; hs-CRP, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein; IL6, interleukin-6; LDH, lactate dehydrogenase; MA, muscle area; NEWS2, National Early Warning Score 2; NLR, neutrophil–lymphocyte ratio; q-SOFA, Quick Sepsis-Related Organ Failure Assessment; SAT, s.c. adipose tissue area; VAT, visceral adipose tissue area.

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    Figure 3

    Kaplan–Meier curves for predicting mortality in patients with COVID-19 (age, obesity, and MA < 92 cm2). COVID-19, coronavirus disease-19; HR, hazard ratio; MA, muscle area.

  • View in gallery
    Figure 4

    Tomographic and laboratory variables of 200 COVID-19 hospitalized patients collected during the first 48 h of admission. (A) Heatmap showing tomographic variable (VAT, SAT, MA, VAT/MA, and VAT/SAT) classification below, within, and above normal range in patients with COVID-19 (survivors vs nonsurvivors). (B) Bubble plot displaying the MA and VAT in patients with COVID-19 (survivors vs nonsurvivors). (C) Mortality risk ROC curve and AUC score with parameters of VAT, MA, VAT/MA, VAT/SAT. COVID-19, coronavirus disease-19; MA, muscle area; ROC, receiver operating characteristic; SAT, s.c. adipose tissue area; VAT, visceral adipose tissue area.

  • 1

    Rabi FA, Al Zoubi MS, Kasasbeh GA, Salameh DM, Al-Nasser AD. Sars-cov-2 and coronavirus disease 2019: what we know so far. Pathogens 2020 9 231. (https://doi.org/10.3390/pathogens9030231)

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 2

    Park M, Cook AR, Lim JT, Sun Y, Dickens BL. A systematic review of COVID-19 epidemiology based on current evidence. Journal of Clinical Medicine 2020 9 967. (https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm9040967)

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 3

    Ye Q, Wang B, Mao J, Fu J, Shang S, Shu Q, Zhang T. Epidemiological analysis of COVID-19 and practical experience from China. Journal of Medical Virology 2020 92 755769. (https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.25813)

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 4

    Popkin BM, Du S, Green WD, Beck MA, Algaith T, Herbst CH, Alsukait RF, Alluhidan M, Alazemi N, Shekar M. Individuals with obesity and COVID-19: A global perspective on the epidemiology and biological relationships. Obesity Reviews 2020 21 e13128. (https://doi.org/10.1111/OBR.13128)

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 5

    Halpern B, Louzada MLDC, Aschner P, Gerchman F, Brajkovich I, Faria-Neto JR, Polanco FE, Montero J, Juliá SMM & Lotufo PA et al.Obesity and COVID-19 in Latin America: a tragedy of two pandemics – official document of the Latin American Federation of Obesity Societies. Obesity Reviews 2021 22 e13165. (https://doi.org/10.1111/OBR.13165)

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 6

    Fan Z, Shi Y, Huang G, Hou D, Liu J. Long-term changes in body composition and their relationships with cardiometabolic risk factors: a population-based cohort study. PLoS ONE 2021 16 e0251486. (https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0251486)

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 7

    Elffers TW, de Mutsert R, Lamb HJ, de Roos A, Willems van Dijk K, Rosendaal FR, Jukema JW, Trompet S. Body fat distribution, in particular visceral fat, is associated with cardiometabolic risk factors in obese women. PLoS ONE 2017 12 e0185403. (https://doi.org/10.1371/JOURNAL.PONE.0185403)

    • Search Google Scholar
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