Is being overweight a COVID-19 risk?
By Mr Nur Choudhury MPharm
2020 will forever be remembered as the year that the world was bought to a standstill by COVID-19.
Despite the high death rate numbers globally, and the life-threatening nature of COVID-19, for most people it is still a mild disease. Since the start of the pandemic, it became very clear that the virus affects specific demographic of people more than others, and researchers have worked hard to find out which group of people are at most risk from the disease and what we can do to protect them.
One of the first indicators was that older people are at greater risk of developing severe symptoms or dying as a result of the coronavirus infection than the younger generation.
Another key indicator was that people with underlying chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and respiratory diseases such as asthma and COPD were all at higher risks of developing more serious complications after contracting COVID-19, with men as well as people from a BAME (black and ethnic minority) background disproportionately affected more than women or Caucasians.
Let us not forget that obesity not only increases the chances of developing long-term health problems such as diabetes and coronary heart disease, but also increases the risks of infections including seasonal flu and coronavirus, through having an impaired immune response.
What are the links between obesity and COVID-19?
Various global studies have also suggested that obesity is one of the key underlying conditions that can cause a more severe reaction to COVID-19 infections. Given that the majority of adults in the UK are overweight or obese, and globally over 1.8 billion adults live with obesity, it appears that the global pandemic is also disproportionately affecting those who are overweight or obese.
Studies carried out in the UK found of the people admitted to ICU with COVID-19, around 75% were overweight or classified as obese. Further studies carried out in over 2.6 million people in the USA found that people who are obese were around 20% more likely to be hospitalised with COVID-19 symptoms compared with people with a lower BMI. This was consistent across all age groups.
There have been various suggestions as to why excess weight could increase severity of COVID-19 symptoms. Stored fat leads to high levels of inflammation, which can reduce the effectiveness of the immune system, and it’s possible that fat stored around the middle of the body could make the lungs less efficient in the face of a viral infection.
Given the complex relationship between weight, health and many other social factors, the effect is likely to be the result of physical, social, and environmental factors.
The various lockdown measures in the UK and abroad to slow down the spread of the virus have made it harder for people to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Reduced exercise routines, and snacking in between meals whilst being confined to the house has led to surge of people putting on weight over the past year.
How to stay healthy during the pandemic if you are overweight
- Maintain a healthy weight loss programme by following a reduced calorie diet and balanced eating plan that is right for you.
- Increase physical exercise on a regular basis that fits around your lifestyle. If you are self-isolating, look into a home workout programme, or if you are just working from home, going for regular runs or bike rides.
- Look into enrolling on a medical weight loss programme with a health professional, and weight loss treatments such as “Saxenda” and “Orlistat” both of which have proven benefits in helping with weight-loss
- Get the seasonal flu-jab
(If you are unable to visit your GP, you can still benefit by visiting an online private doctors offering a weight loss programme such as at www.Accessdoctor.co.uk where they have a dedicated weight-loss expert to help you achieve your weight-loss goals and explain which treatment plan would be right for you)