No one is immune to COVID-19, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that some people are more vulnerable to a severe case   including those who are very overweight. 

42% of adults in the U.S. are considered obese. Being obese places you at risk for being hospitalized or being placed in the ICU as a result of cornavirus. 

Given that COVID-19 will be with us for quite some time, here are three things that you should know about obesity and the virus: 

  • A person’s weight can increase their risk: Although obesity is quite prevalent in the U.S., it’s crucial to know if your weight is putting you at risk.  Even if you feel relatively healthy, being heavily overweight can increase your risk of severe illness. If you’re under the age of 55, obesity is the number one risk factor for developing a severe case of COVID-19. A person is considered to be obese if they have more body fat than what is considered to be healthy for their height. Click here to calculate your body mass index (BMI): a screening tool used for obesity. 

If a BMI indicates 30 or higher, a person’s risk increases by 27% for developing a severe case of COVID-19. A BMI of 40 or higher doubles the risk entirely. 

  • A severe case can be difficult to recover from. The research is still unclear on why obesity puts a person at higher risk of severe illness, but theories exist. One theory is that infection may worsen breathing difficulties that overweight people experience, even if they don’t realize it. Another thought is that obesity may increase a chance of experiencing “cytokine storm,” which is a threatening immune-related complication from COVID-19. A final theory is that, due to having more fat, the virus can possibly stick around longer due to molecular properties of fat cells and the virus. Whatever the reason for having increased risk, it’s important to remember that the sicker you are, the longer you’ll take to recover. 
  • An obese person can take steps to protect their health. Although we all are taking precautions to stay healthy, those at a higher risk should be even more vigilant. If you are obese, be extra cautious. Practice excellent hand hygiene, social distance, and wear masks. Make sure to manage other underlying health conditions. If you have other preexisting issues, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease, be sure to keep up-to-schedule on your medications. Lastly, don’t forget to support your immune system. Eat healthy, get good sleep, and exercise regularly. 

If you think you might be obese, here are some next steps you can take: 

 There’s no quick way to become thin overnight, but it’s never too late to start. 

March 11, 2021 — Dr. Jason Olafsson