As we learn more about Covid-19 and its variations every day, the message from recent studies is clear: being overweight or obese puts you at higher risk for severe illness from Covid-19. Because severe illness from COVID-19 is defined as hospitalization, admission to the ICU, intubation, mechanical ventilation or death, taking action to lose unwanted pounds can literally save your life.
Since the pandemic began, dozens of studies have reported that many of the sickest COVID-19 patients have been individuals who are overweight or obese. In the first study of its kind published on August 2020 in Obesity Reviews, an international team of researchers pooled data from 399,000 patients and found that patients with obesity who contracted SARS-CoV-2 were 113% more likely than people of healthy weight to land in the hospital, 74% more likely to be admitted to an ICU, and 48% more likely to die. Another study, appearing in Annals of Internal Medicine by Kaiser Permanente, showed that obesity is especially dangerous for men and younger patients who contract COVID-19, and that this risk was most striking among those aged 60 years or younger and men,” the authors wrote.
“We didn’t understand early on what a major risk factor obesity was. … it’s not until more recently that we’ve realized the devastating impact of obesity, particularly in younger people,” says Anne Dixon, a physician-scientist who studies obesity and lung disease at the University of Vermont. That “may be one reason for the devastating impact of COVID-19 in the United States, where 40% of adults are obese.”
Obesity may impact COVID risk in several ways. Obesity increases the risk of impaired immune function and chronic inflammation, both of which can make it harder for the body to fight the COVID-19 infection. Excess fat can also make it harder for a person to take a deep breath, an important consideration for an illness that impairs lung function.
But why is this? Stephen O’Rahilly at the University of Cambridge, said, “Two things happen when obesity occurs: the amount of fat increases, but also you put fat in the wrong places. You put it in the liver and in skeletal muscle. And that disturbs metabolism.” This disturbance is associated with a range of abnormalities, including increases in inflammatory cytokines and a reduction of a molecule called adiponectin that directly protects the lungs.
People with obesity are also more likely than normal-weight people to have other diseases that are independent risk factors for severe COVID-19, including heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes and they are more likely to encounter difficulties once hospitalized, especially if they cannot be placed in a face-down (prone) position for any length of time which can help to relieve pressure for the lungs.
Unfortunately, at this time, getting the vaccine is not a magic pill against covid complications, as researchers are still unsure whether obesity negatively affects the efficacy of the new vaccines. Importantly, it has been shown to do so for numerous other diseases.
Fast weight loss under the care of the best weight loss doctor can help you reduce your weight quickly. A medical weight loss plan, personalized to include a healthy food plan and behavioral modification, can help overweight and obese people form new healthy habits and not return to habits that put the weight back on over time.
What Does the CDC say?
Adults with excess weight are at even greater risk during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Having obesity increases the risk of severe illness from COVID-19. People who are overweight may also be at increased risk.
- Having obesity may triple the risk of hospitalization due to a COVID-19 infection.
- Obesity is linked to impaired immune function.2,3
- Obesity decreases lung capacity and reserve and can make ventilation more difficult.
- As BMI increases, the risk of death from COVID-19 increases.
- Studies have demonstrated that obesity may be linked to lower vaccine responses for numerous diseases (influenza, Hepatitis B, tetanus).
What Can You Do To Reduce Your Risk?
The number one take action recommendation from the CDC is to eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains as well as the appropriate number of calories for weight loss or preventing weight gain. Good nutrition can help support optimal immune function. And a healthy diet can help prevent or support self-management of diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, which also increase the risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Food, as it turns out is the largest driver of good health and wellness.
Medical weight loss programs, like those offered at LivLight Weight Loss, with personalized real food plans, vitamin therapy, prescription appetite suppressants, one-on-one diet coaching and daily digital behavioral guidance have been shown to help people lose weight quickly and safely. These best weight loss clinic standards have now been shown to help reduce your risk of serious complications from the coronavirus.
As Covid-19 and its new variants continue to spread throughout our country and across the globe, the findings of recent scientific studies should inspire us to act quickly and take control of our eating habits to reduce the high personal risk that comes with being overweight or obese.
- Tartof SY, Qian L, Hong V. Obesity and mortality among patients diagnosed with COVID-19: results from an integrated health care organization. Ann Intern Med. Published online August 12, 2020. doi:10.7326/M20-3742
- Kass DA. COVID-19 and severe obesity: a big problem? Ann Intern Med. Published online August 12, 2020. doi:10.7326/M20-5677
- BMJ2020; 371 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m4130 (Published 26 October 2020)
- Lighter, J., et al., Obesity in Patients Younger Than 60 Years Is a Risk Factor for COVID-19 Hospital Admission. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 2020.
- Simonnet, A., et al., High Prevalence of Obesity in Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) Requiring Invasive Mechanical Ventilation. Obesity (Silver Spring), 2020.
- Kalligeros, M., et al., Association of Obesity with Disease Severity Among Patients with Coronavirus Disease 2019. Obesity (Silver Spring), 2020; 28(7): p. 1200-1204.
- Hamer, M., et al., Overweight, obesity, and risk of hospitalization for COVID-19: A community-based cohort study of adults in the United Kingdom. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 2020.
- Nakeshbandi, M., et al., The impact of obesity on COVID-19 complications: a retrospective cohort study. IJO, 2020.
- Hamer M, et al. Lifestyle risk factors, inflammatory mechanisms, and COVID-19 hospitalization: A community-based cohort study of 387,109 adults in UK. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 2020. 87: p. 184-187.
- Hussain A, Mahawar K, Xia Z, Yang W, El-Hasani S. Obesity and mortality of COVID-19. Meta-analysis.Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, 2020 Jul-Aug;14(4):295-300.
- Sosa-García, J. O. et al.Preprint at Lancet https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3605185 (2020).
- Vandanmagsar, B. et al.Nature Med. 17, 179–188 (2011).