In January, as Mississippi health officials planned for their incoming shipments of COVID-19 vaccines, they assessed the state's most vulnerable: health care workers, of course, and elderly people in nursing homes. But among those who needed urgent protection from the coronavirus ripping across the Magnolia State were 1 million Mississippians with obesity.

Obesity and weight-related illnesses have been deadly liabilities in the COVID-19 era. A report released this month by the World Obesity Federation found that increased body weight is the second-greatest predictor of COVID-19-related hospitalization and death across the globe, trailing only old age as a risk factor.

As a fixture of life in much of America, especially in the American South — home to nine of the nation's 12 heaviest states — obesity is playing a role not only in COVID-19 outcomes but in the calculus of the vaccination rollout.

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