The Prevalence of Underlying Medical Conditions that Increase the Severity of COVID-19 Among U.S. Adults


Jacqueline Flaherty

Faculty Mentor(s)

David Gee (Food Science and Nutrition), Nicole Stendell-Hollis (Nutrition), Susan Hawk (Nutrition)


Individuals with underlying comorbidities and multimorbidity may be at higher risk for severe COVID-19. The purpose of this study is to quantify the prevalence of medical conditions that increase the risk for severe COVID-19 infections using conditions the CDC identified that show sufficient evidence of this association. These results will provide a context for the extent of the U.S. adult population at risk for complications from COVID-19. A total of 10,530 subjects ages ≥20 were used from NHANES data cycles 2015-2018. Underlying medical conditions identified by the CDC that increase the risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes were quantified. The most common comorbidities included hypertension (49% n=5551), obesity (40.7% n=4270), and type 2 diabetes (13.6%, n=1,886). Of the 10,530 subjects, 5,252 (45.2% ±1.1) have two or more COVID risk factors. After stratifying by age group, sex, and race/ethnicity, the prevalence of multimorbidity (≥2 risk factors) was highest among males, adults ≥60 years and non-Hispanic Black adults; Age group (≥60: [67.2%±1.3]; 40-59: [46.1%±1.67]; 20-39: [26%±1.33]; P<0.0001) Sex (males: [47% ±1.63]; females: [43.4%±1.24]; P<0.021) Race/Ethnicity (Non-Hispanic Black: [51.3%]; non-Hispanic White: [46.7%]; Mexican American: [40.9%]; Non-Hispanic Asian: [27.5%]; Other race-including multi-racial: [42.8%] P<0.0001). The results of this study indicate that almost half the population has multimorbidity and HTN. Consistent with the literature, non-Hispanic Blacks, males, and adults ≥60 years may be at higher risk for severe COVID-19 due to higher multimorbidity prevalence. Keywords: "Multimorbidity", "COVID-19", "NHANES"


2 thoughts on “The Prevalence of Underlying Medical Conditions that Increase the Severity of COVID-19 Among U.S. Adults”

  1. Jacqueline, this was an amazing presentation to watch–it was interesting to hear that almost half the U.S. population has multimorbidities that could increase severity of COVID-19 complications. I remember hearing once that many adults have HTN and are simply unaware, so it’s interesting to see what effects having HTN has on COVID-19 severity.

    1. Jacqueline Flaherty

      Hi Sierra!
      Thank you for your comment! I appreciate the feedback and interest you had in this presentation!
      I’m glad you mentioned the effects HTN has on COVID-19 severity. I am currently researching more about the proposed mechanisms behind why HTN may be contributing to these severe outcomes, such as ARDS.
      Thank you again for your interest! Please do not hesitate to email me with more questions or comments!

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