COVID-19 has dominated headlines for months as the disease spread across the world, leaving more than 4 million people ill and causing just shy of 285,000 deaths worldwide. Most people know the leading risk factors such as being 65 years of age or older, being immunocompromised, or having an underlying health condition like asthma, chronic lung diseases, or severe heart health issues. However, there are lesser-known and sneakier preexisting health problems that can mean the difference between a mild case and a potentially lethal one. As doctors scramble to understand this novel illness, one thing has become clear—COVID-19 hits obese patients hard.
Why Obesity Makes People High-Risk
Medical professionals don’t fully understand the disease and have struggled to keep up with risk profiles. In China, the disease hit people who smoked harder than it did nonsmokers. In Italy, the disease targeted the aging population and those who lived with extended family members. In America, BMI (which stands for body mass index) seems to be the latest high-risk factor the disease targets. Hospitals across the country are noting that obesity is one of the most common underlying health conditions of patients hospitalized due to COVID-19. Some are noting that young people in otherwise good health outside of their obesity are sicker than other COVID-19 patients are and that many are dying despite their young age.
Given that 42% of adult Americans are obese with 9% being severely obese, the link between a high BMI and COVID-19 hospitalizations is particularly concerning. Research is still preliminary, but multiple teams are finding that obese patients are twice as likely to need intensive care compared to individuals with healthy BMIs. Of those obese patients that require hospitalization, they’re three times as likely to die than patients with lower BMIs are.
The likelihood of needing a ventilator is also higher for obese patients suffering from COVID-19. Obese patients are more likely to have breathing problems when not sick from carrying more weight on their chests. This compresses their lungs and makes it more challenging to breathe under normal circumstances.
Adding a layer of complication is the fact that obesity increases the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). This makes it challenging for doctors to provide respiratory support as ventilators are their only option. Patients with ARDS have a high mortality rate as do COVID-19 patients that require ventilation. In addition, obese patients are at increased risk for other health issues like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, and more. Many of those conditions can also increase the severity of COVID-19 symptoms, which makes obesity even more concerning during this pandemic.
Actions People Can Take
Social media posts exploded in the early weeks of the pandemic with tongue-in-cheek comments about gaining the COVID 19 while others focused on how to keep pandemic weight gain at bay. However, while a few pounds won’t tip the average person into a high-risk category, individuals flirting with the line of obesity have much more at stake.
Social distancing, making healthy dietary changes, and starting a workout routine after consulting with a physician can help improve health. For obese individuals with underlying health conditions, they need to take any existing prescriptions exactly as directed. Obese individuals should also take extra precautions like ordering grocery pickup or having groceries delivered to avoid interacting with crowds. If they can’t avoid it, they should wear masks and gloves when they have to come in close proximity to other people.
Trying to lose weight is challenging, but with experts predicting a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall, individuals with high BMIs will continue to be at high-risk. Contacting a medical professional for advice on dietary changes and exercise routines is a great start. Whether you’re just beginning a health and fitness routine or you need more help reaching your healthy weight loss goals, we can help. Contact us to learn more about weight loss and improving your health.