The world is currently held hostage by the coronavirus pandemic, which the World Health Organization has declared an international public health emergency. This novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 brings about a disease called COVID-19, which affects the lungs and brings about pneumonia-like complications.
A lack of exercise or poor dietary patterns can increase the chances of developing COVID-19, once exposed to the virus.The CDC has reported that people of any age with severe obesity (defined as a body mass index or BMI >40) are at increased risk. Since obesity is widespread, a large percentage of the global population is at risk.
An obese individual suffering with associated co-morbidities such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes, especially poorly controlled diabetes, is at even higher risk. COVID-19 can cause more severe symptoms in these individuals, and require intensive care.
Health systems already near capacity after a worse-than-usual flu season, may not be able to cope with a large influx of COVID-19 patients requiring artificial respiration.
How the coronavirus pandemic may worsen the obesity epidemic:
The coronavirus pandemic may also contribute to an increase in obesity rates because:
- Most group weight loss and physical activity programs are currently suspended
- Elective surgical interventions are being curtailed and likely to remain so
- Lockdowns and preventative self-quarantines severely restrict mobility
- Prolonged inactivity during a lockdown could worsen the risk of metabolic disease
- Outdoor exercise might not be practical
- There may be an increased dependency on processed food full of preservatives, or canned food high in sodium, due to a shortage of fresh produce
According to a survey conducted by the UK’s Intensive Care National Audit And Research center, a majority of patients with COVID-19 admitted to critical care were overweight. Individuals with a BMI of 25-40 made up about 64% of the patients, and 7% had a BMI over 40. Interestingly, 71% of those admitted were male.
Why are obese individuals more at risk?
Being obese might increase one’s risk of having more severe symptoms once infected by SARS-CoV-2. Excess weight on the diaphragm puts pressure on the lungs, making it harder to breathe.
Obesity + COVID-19 also brings logistical challenges
Obese people who contract COVID-19 can present a unique set of challenges in patient care and management.
- It is more difficult to intubate obese patients
- Accurate diagnostic imaging is more difficult due to positioning limitations
- Special beds and positioning or transport equipment for obese patients may not be easily available
- Being in a prone position for an extended time can create more health problems
What You Can Do, Starting Now
- Maintain proper nutrition and increase protein in your diet.
- If you are diabetic, maintain good glycemic control
- If you have diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease, please talk to your doctor
- Non-essential in-person medical visits are currently strongly discouraged in an effort to protect frontline healthcare workers. Many health systems and insurers are providing robust telehealth programs during this time - talk to your physician or insurer to see if you are eligible for telehealth consultation with your physician.
- Maintain a safe distance of at least 6ft from people outside your immediate household
- Practice regular and rigorous hand washing for at least 20 minutes, especially when you touch foreign surfaces
- Cover your mouth and nose with a bent elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid touching your face.
As exercise is known to boost the immune response, a lack of it can compromise an individual’s health and increase susceptibility to pathogens. So try to eat as healthy as possible, and get some moderate exercise indoors, or outdoors near your home while maintaining a safe distance from other people. We wish you good health.