Research we're watching
Not only is obesity a risk factor for flu complications, but it might actually make the flu vaccine less effective, says a study published online June 6, 2017, by the International Journal of Obesity. Scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that the flu shot provides less protection in people who are obese.
The study compared flu rates in 1,022 people during two recent flu seasons. All participants were vaccinated against the flu. The researchers looked at immune response to the vaccine and also tracked who went on to get the virus. They found that nearly 10% of obese participants got the flu, compared with 5% of their healthy-weight counterparts. This is bad news, because individuals with a body mass index of 40 or higher are also more prone to flu complications.
It's not totally clear why obesity reduces the effectiveness of the flu vaccine, but the researchers suggested that the differences might indicate that certain immune cells, called T cells, don't work as well in obese individuals.