The Relationship Between Obesity and COVID-19

July 31, 2020 by Lee Group

The link between obesity and numerous health conditions has long been established. High cholesterol. Diabetes. Arthritis. High blood pressure. The list goes on. Unfortunately, there’s a new entry on this list: risk of death from COVID-19.

To be clear, obesity does not put a person at greater risk of contracting the coronavirus. We well know by now that COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets and that together we can all reduce our risk of infection by wearing face coverings, social distancing, cleaning our hands, and disinfecting high-touch surfaces. The problem instead is that once a person has contracted the virus, the risk of developing more severe symptoms and complications is seen as rising with the patient’s body mass index, which is a ratio of weight and height and used to estimate a person’s percentage of body fat.

It’s still unclear whether the problem is simply obesity by itself or rather due to the strong link between obesity and chronic conditions that make an obese COVID-19 patient suffer worse outcomes. Regardless, the bottom line is clear: obesity is linked to a higher risk of respiratory failure, other complications, and even death from the virus.

In fact, having a BMI of 40 or above is now listed as a risk factor for severe COVID-19 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Obesity is now considered a top risk factor for COVID-19 complications, second only to advanced age.

It’s news enough to get people who have been gaining their “quarantine 15” to think long and hard about their diets and lifestyles. But that’s easier said than done – and many people have long had good reasons to try to tackle their extra pounds but few or no resources to actually get the job done. In many cases, it’s an obesity-related chronic disease itself that prevents a patient from getting active and healthier. In others, the higher-quality food or resources needed to lose weight and get healthy are too expensive or unavailable within a community. Other times, patients view themselves as harmlessly overweight, not realizing that they are actually morbidly obese and at risk for health complications.

Healthcare strategies for obesity are scarce as well, with most physicians simply addressing the concern with a brief comment during a patient’s checkup, rather than introducing specific weight-loss recommendations. Instead, problems related to obesity are more often addressed when associated chronic and even life-threatening conditions crop up. Too often, those patients end up at Laredo Emergency Room in need of lifesaving care.

While self-isolation can make matters worse, this extra time we have on our hands can also give us the opportunity we need to take control of our community’s obesity problem. A few minutes a day is all we need to fit in the moderate exercise that can make a big difference over time – and to explore healthy lifestyle and food options, rather than a fad diet plan that doesn’t last. Here at Laredo Emergency Room, we also encourage you to seek out specific recommendations for weight-loss and healthy diet strategies from your primary care physician and to make weight control a health priority, before winding up here. For anyone suffering from obesity, a goal to lose weight is about more than simply looking and feeling better. It’s an achievement that may ultimately save your life, even in a pandemic.

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