COVID-19 and Obesity

Since the pandemic began, dozens of studies have reported that many of the sickest COVID-19 patients have been people who are overweight or have obesity.  The biology of obesity includes impaired immunity, chronic inflammation, and blood that’s prone to clot, all of which can worsen COVID-19. This grim fact affects 40% of adults who have obesity in the US and 32% who are overweight – that’s 72% of the population who is at higher risk.  In fact, average weight gain during the COVID pandemic was 29 lbs.

It is not entirely understood why obesity would worsen COVID-19, but researchers have proposed a number of explanations.

Fat in the abdomen pushes up on the diaphragm which lies below the chest cavity, to impinge on the lungs and restrict airflow.  Decreased lung capacity can make going on a ventilator more difficult.

The blood of people with obesity has an increased tendency to clot—an especially grave risk during an infection that, when severe, independently peppers the small vessels of the lungs with clots.

Immunity also weakens in people with obesity, in part because fat cells infiltrate the organs where immune cells are produced and stored, such as the spleen, bone marrow, and thymus.  The problem is not only fewer immune cells, but less effective ones.

People with obesity also suffer from chronic, low-grade inflammation. Obesity is a chronic inflammatory state that causes your body to produce excessive amounts of cytokine, molecules that communicate and regulate your immune system. COVID-19 infections also trigger the release of cytokines. When combined with obesity, this can lead to an excess amount of cytokine in your body, called a “cytokine storm,” that can cause damage to multiple body organs.

Those who are living with obesity frequently have underlying cardiovascular disease, and that comes with an array of associated risks like diabetes and hypertension. These factors can all contribute to difficulties stemming from a COVID-19 infection.

Losing even a little weight can improve the metabolic health of a person with obesity, and, in doing so, reduce their chances of developing severe COVID-19 if they were to become infected.  Even losing a modest amount is likely to benefit. 

If you are ready to improve your health by overcoming your struggles to lose weight and keep it off, I encourage you to reach out to our caring team at Physicians Premier Weight & Wellness Center at https://healthymeweightloss.com/contact-us/

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