Before coronavirus entered the scene, our country faced another epidemic: obesity. The obesity rate in the US and worldwide has skyrocketed in recent years. This is bad news, as obesity is linked with an increased risk of chronic disease, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Well, it turns out COVID-19 targets people carrying extra weight as well. This article reveals the data linking obesity and COVID-19 severity, why excess pounds puts you at greater risk, and what you can do about it.
Obesity and COVID-19: What’s the Connection?
While several health conditions increase your risk of severe COVID-19, obesity tops the list. A study of nearly 17,000 patients found that 77% of Americans hospitalized for COVID-19 were overweight or obese.
And there is a direct relationship between BMI (body mass index) and COVID-19 severity. The more extra weight you carry, the greater your risk.
Even overweight people are at increased risk. Not sure what your BMI is or what category you fall into? Check out this handy BMI calculator and the ranges below.
- Overweight = BMI between 25-30
- Obese = BMI between 30-40
- Severely obese = BMI over 40
Research shows obese people with COVID-19 are 113% more likely to land in the hospital than people with healthy weight. Obesity also makes you 74% more likely to end up in the ICU and 48% more likely to die.
A recent preprint study may explain why. This new study reveals that COVID-19 infects fat tissues and immune cells that live in fat. So the more fat you’re carrying, the more places COVID-19 has to set up shop.
How Bad IS the Obesity Crisis in America?
The CDC reports that in 2017-18, a whopping 42.4% of Americans were obese. What’s more, another 30.7% of Americans were overweight. That means over two-thirds of US adults are either overweight or obese.
And that was before the coronavirus pandemic! The stress and sedentary lifestyle associated with lockdowns have only exacerbated this problem.
A recent survey from the APA found that 42% of US adults gained more weight than intended during the pandemic. The average weight gain was around 29 pounds.
And unfortunately, each extra pound you gain puts you more at risk for severe outcomes of COVID-19.
WHY are Obese People More at Risk of COVID-19?
It’s difficult to nail down one reason why obesity is such a risk factor for COVID-19. But there are several possibilities:
1. Weakened Immunity
Research shows obesity is linked with increased respiratory infections, including pneumonia, H1N1, and yes…COVID-19.
2. Chronic Inflammation
People who are obese have more adipose tissue (aka fat cells). Adipose tissues secrete inflammatory cytokines. This creates a chronic state of low-grade inflammation. The more fat cells have, the greater the inflammation.
3. Increased Blood Clots
Obesity is associated with an increased risk of blood clots. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is linked with an increase of blood clots as well. This makes obesity and COVID-19 a potentially deadly combo.
4. Impaired Lung Function
Research shows obesity decreases lung capacity. When you have excess abdominal fat it presses on the diaphragm. This can restrict airflow make it more difficult to breathe. Obese people also tend to have lower levels of the hormone adiponectin, which helps protect the lungs.
5. Increased Risk of Other Comorbidities
How to Use Lifestyle to Manage Obesity (& Boost Immunity)
We are living in strange times. While a lot may feel out of your control, you DO have the power to change your lifestyle. Here are five lifestyle tips that support weight loss and strengthen your immune system:
Eat More Whole Foods (& Less Processed Ones)
Processed foods are handy, but they disrupt your microbiome, throw off your blood sugar, and lead to weight gain. Plus, they’re devoid of the nutrients needed to keep your immune system strong.
So crowd out the processed junk by eating plenty of nutrient-dense whole foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, nuts, and whole grains.
Whole foods are loaded with vitamins and minerals, but they’re also packed with fiber. Fiber makes you feel full longer, so you’re less likely to overeat. Research shows people who eat high-fiber diets lose more weight.
Limit Sugar Intake
So how much sugar is too much? Here’s what the American Heart Association recommends:
- Men – no more than 36 grams (9 tsp) of added sugar a day
- Women – no more than 25 grams (6 tsp) of added sugar a day
What improves heart health, boosts your mood, strengthens your immune system, and helps you manage your weight? You guessed it – exercise! Research shows exercise has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, even in as little as 20 minutes!
The coronavirus pandemic has only highlighted the importance of exercise. The CDC reports that people who do little or no physical activity are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19 than those who stay active. So get moving!
How much exercise is enough? The CDC recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise and two days of muscle-strengthening activity each week.
But anything is better than nothing! So start slow, find some things you enjoy, and stick with them. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Walk your dog
- Go for a bike ride
- Do some yoga
- Play tennis
- Take a hike
- Lift some weights
- Play with your kids
- Clean your home
- Do some gardening
Get Plenty of Sleep
Believe it or not, poor sleep is linked with an increased risk of obesity. Lack of sleep disrupts the appetite hormones ghrelin and leptin, increases inflammation, and reduces insulin sensitivity.
Manage Your Stress
Nowadays, managing stress isn’t just helpful; it’s critical. Chronic stress creates inflammation. Add some COVID-19 inflammation on top of that, and you’ve got a cytokine storm that’s a recipe for disaster.
Plus, stress makes weight loss challenging. Chronic stress elevates the hormone cortisol, slowing your metabolism. High cortisol levels also increase your appetite and cause cravings for sweet, fatty, and salty foods.
So inject some stress relief into your daily life whenever you can. Here are some ideas:
- Get out in nature
- Listen to some music
- Read a book
- Call a friend
- Play with a pet
- Take a bath
- Be creative – sing, dance, paint, draw
- Or anything else you find relaxing!
Clearly, obesity and COVID-19 are a risky combo. People who are obese and get COVID-19 are more likely to be hospitalized, be put on a ventilator, and die.
Now more than ever, it’s important to do everything in your power to stay healthy – for yourself and your family. If you’re overweight or obese, that means making lifestyle changes that support weight loss such as:
As an added bonus, all five of these lifestyle habits boost your immune system, making you more resilient when bad bugs strike.
Changing your lifestyle can be uncomfortable, even when it’s positive. So start small, but start somewhere. The more you commit to healthier habits, the better you’ll feel and the stronger your body will be.
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