Obesity is Associated with Greater COVID-19 Risk
“Underlying medical conditions”, such as heart or lung diseases, have received most of the attention as far as COVID-19 risk goes. But did you know that obesity, which impacts over 40% of adults in the U.S., is also a huge risk factor for COVID-19? In a recent meta-analysis, Dr. Barry Popkin and colleagues reported that obese individuals are twice as likely to be hospitalized for and 50% more likely to die from COVID-19.1 Obese individuals are even more likely to contract COVID-19 in the first place, potentially due to their hampered immune response.1
Another study found an association between obesity and need for invasive mechanical ventilation (i.e., inserting a tube in the trachea to provide air). Even after controlling for other factors that may be associated with obesity (e.g., hypertension), this relationship persists.2 Therefore, obesity is an independent risk factor for COVID-19 complications. Similar to the meta-analysis by Popkin et al., this study also found an association between increased BMI and severity of COVID-19.1-2
COVID-19 Advice for Individuals with Obesity
While you cannot lose a significant amount of weight overnight, there are some precautions that individuals with obesity can take.
- Avoid COVID-19 contamination.Similar to elderly individuals and people with underlying medical conditions, obese individuals must take even more precautions than the general public to avoid COVID-19 contamination. This may include precautions such as getting groceries delivered rather than going to the store yourself.
- Seek immediate medical attention if you are exposed to COVID-19. Considering the heightened risk of complications and death due to COVID-19 for obese individuals, it’s important to seek professional medical advice if you’ve been exposed or show symptoms of COVID-19. A medical professional may recommend you get a COVID-19 test, see a provider virtually or in-person, or go to the ER, depending on your situation.
- Incorporate some socially distanced physical activity.Although it takes time to lose weight, small efforts can make a difference in your immune response. Socially distanced physical activity can help reduce inflammation, increase immune cell production, and promote balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut microbiome. Studies show that even a single workout can increase immune health, and regular, moderate-intensity activity is even better.
- Follow nutritional recommendations. Similarly, good nutritional practices can help boost immunity against COVID-19. For example, you may consider taking immune-boosting supplements of zinc, iron, and vitamins A, B12, B6, C, and E.3You can also get these nutrients naturally through fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. Eating healthier foods will also give you more energy for physical activity, which together reduce BMI.
BMI and COVID-19 risks are positively associated, meaning that as BMI goes up, so does COVID-19 risk. So, even small decreases in BMI may help reduce your risk of COVID-19 and/or associated complications.