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What is the Link Between Obesity and COVID-19?

Jun 05, 2020

Obesity is linked to a number of health conditions and risk factors for serious complications from illness. As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread around the world, we are learning more about the potentially higher risk of complications from the novel coronavirus in patients who are obese.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has listed severe obesity as a risk factor for severe COVID-19. According to the CDC, “severe obesity” is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above. We are still learning why obesity may be linked to a more severe case of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Below are preliminary data on studies on this link between obesity and severe COVID-19:

  • A study of 383 patients in China showed that having obesity was associated with a 142 percent higher risk of developing severe pneumonia with COVID-19.
  • A study of 4,000 patients in New York City found severe obesity to be a major risk factor for hospitalization from COVID-19, second only to age.
  • A Seattle study of 24 critically ill COVID-19 patients found that 85 percent of patients with obesity required ventilation, compared to 64 percent of patients of normal weight.
  • The same study in Seattle found that 62 percent of COVID-19 patients with obesity died from the illness, compared to 36 percent of those without obesity.
  • A study involving 124 patients in France found that COVID-19 patients with obesity were more likely to require ventilation.

Why is obesity a risk factor for severe COVID-19?

Although we still have much to learn about this new coronavirus, one way that obesity may increase risk for patients is respiratory dysfunction, according to MedicalNewsToday. Patients who are obese experience more resistance in their airways, as well as lower lung volumes and weaker respiratory muscles. Because COVID-19 is a serious respiratory illness, healthy respiratory function is critical in the fight against the disease.

Additionally, obesity is associated with other health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease — all of which may increase the likelihood of the patient developing pneumonia. And high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are also common in patients who have obesity, could make people more susceptible to developing infection.

How to lower your risk of getting sick with COVID-19

As many of the obesity-related health conditions can increase risk factors for COVID-19, it is essential that patients who have obesity and other comorbidities continue taking medications for underlying health conditions as prescribed.

Individuals with obesity should also take precautions as outlined by the CDC to limit exposure and reduce risk.

The World Obesity Federation acknowledges that the current world health crisis which has brought about social distancing and restrictions on activity may contribute to an increase in obesity rates as people staying home for weeks on end may be less likely to continue with exercise programs. Likewise, self-isolating at home may prompt some people to rely more on processed foods with a longer shelf life, rather than fresh produce and other healthy foods.

It is absolutely essential that individuals find time to exercise, whether that be following an in-home exercise routine, or getting outside for daily walks. Nicholson Clinic also strongly recommends adhering to a healthy diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, which are rich in essential minerals and vitamins to help boost immunity. A healthy diet can lower your risk of developing severe illness, while also helping you maintain a healthy body weight.

If you suffer from obesity, contact Nicholson Clinic today to learn more about how we are helping patients improve their health and reclaim their lives. Give us a call at 972-494-3100 to schedule an appointment.