COVID-19 and Obesity

The COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging the world like wildfire. We have millions infected with the virus and lost thousands to this deadly infection in our country. As we learn to adapt to wearing a mask, social distance, and follow all other safety precautions, we also need to focus on another crucial parameter...that is the weight! Obesity has been the focus of all the latest health discussions since the CDC lists obesity as the risk factor linked to severe illness from COVID-19. The rate of hospitalization, the mortality rate is increased in the obese population, and the prognosis is generally poor in this subset of patients. 

 

Obesity is a chronic disease state caused by excessive fat accumulation. There is metabolic, immune, and respiratory dysfunction, making an obese person more susceptible to severe infection. The immune system, which is our body’s defense against any infection, does not function efficiently in the presence of excess fat. Further, antibody response to vaccines like the Flu vaccine is blunted in an obese person compared to a person with normal body weight. Thereby making the treatment as well as the preventive measures very challenging.

 

The respiratory function is also affected by weight with impaired gas exchange. These altered lung functions negatively impact the outcome from a lung infection like pneumonia that we see in COVID-19. Obstructive sleep apnea that is closely associated with obesity can further complicate the course of the illness. The higher the Body Mass Index(BMI), the greater is the susceptibility to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, the most common cause of respiratory failure and death.

 

Patients with obesity frequently have other comorbidities like Diabetes, Hypertension. These diseases are independent risk factors associated with severe illness from COVID-19. The large body habitus makes mechanical ventilation and supportive care in hospitalized patients very difficult as well. Studies have shown that the receptor through which this virus attaches and enters the cells are found more in fatty tissues. Since a person with obesity has a higher fat mass in the body, they are significantly more prone to contracting this deadly contagious disease. 

 

COVID-19 has put into perspective the importance of public health and personal health. It has never been more vital to follow proper hand hygiene, wear masks, social distance, and quarantine than it is now. As a society, we all need to show responsibility to protect each other from this contagion. We have seen from the data that the communities worldwide that follow these norms strictly were successful in curbing the infection rate. It is crucial to eat healthily, exercise, and, more importantly, maintain an ideal weight. Our lifestyle has undergone a dramatic transformation in the last few months since the start of the pandemic. The lock-down, working from home, social isolation, anxiety, and uncertainty all lead to stress eating, physical inactivity, and weight gain. So focus on lifestyle interventions of eating healthy, exercising regularly. Those who have been hit with “ Quarantine fifteen” syndrome do not hesitate to get professional help to lose weight. Our mantra to get over this pandemic will be “mask, mask, and mask!” mask to protect from this virus and mask to prevent overeating. 

 

Author
Dr. Chandrasekaran Aparna Chandrasekaran, MD, is board certified in Internal Medicine and Obesity Medicine. Her primary area of care is centered around screening, preventing and management of overweight/ obesity. She offers a comprehensive medically supervised weight loss program at Jersey Medical Weight Loss Center, Somerset,NJ. She is a member of Obesity Medicine Association and is actively involved in spreading awareness about Obesity through her blogs, radio show, and presentations. Her article " Body Mass Index-Is It Reliable Indicator of Obesity" got published in the Journal of Nutrition & Weight Loss in February 2018.

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