Obesity and Risk of Increased Severity of COVID-19

Studies have found that one of the primary risk factors associated with COVID-19 is obesity. While the data is far from conclusive, there seems to be a relationship between excess weight and severe coronavirus symptoms, meaning maintaining a healthy weight could be one way to reduce the risk.

Obesity Puts People at Risk for Severe Symptoms

The CDC has gathered data from a sampling of hospitals in various states throughout the U.S. that show that of those who are hospitalized, an average of 48% were obese. This is higher than the 42% that are obese throughout the nation (“obese” in this case being defined as having a BMI over 30).

Another study conducted by a team at New York University School of Medicine found that patients under 60 with a BMI over 35 were twice as likely to need intensive care as other patients in the same age group.

Again, this data isn’t conclusive, but it does indicate that obesity could be a risk factor.

Obesity-Related Risk Factors

While obesity itself may lead to severe COVID-19 symptoms, it also feeds into other risk factors as well. The CDC has listed a number of conditions that put individuals at risk, including:

  • Respiratory problems
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Compromised immune system

Each of these can result from obesity.

Respiratory issues

One of the most severe symptoms of SARS-CoV-2 is difficulty breathing, and obesity can exacerbate that. Unhealthy weight has been associated with respiratory issues such as obstructive sleep apnea, obstructive pulmonary disease, and asthma.

Diabetes

The data collected by the CDC found that about 28% of hospitalized patients had diabetes as an underlying condition. Since type 2 diabetes has long been associated with obesity, it’s easy to see how excess weight could put people at risk.

Cardiovascular disease

Obesity is linked with hypertension (high blood pressure) and cardiovascular disease, both of which are also risk factors for severe symptoms from the virus.

Immune system function

Immunocompromised individuals are among those who are most at risk. Studies have shown that obesity may be linked to poorer immune system function, thereby posing a significant risk.

Minimizing the Risk

Fortunately, obesity is treatable through lifestyle changes. Diet and exercise are key to losing weight as well as maintaining health.

However, some individuals may still have difficulty losing weight even with dietary changes and exercise. In addition, the lifestyle changes needed to lose weight may be difficult to accomplish without outside support or weight loss surgery.

If you’re struggling to lose weight, you may benefit from bariatric surgery. Dr. Malladi can help you determine whether surgical options are right for you.