High-Risk Group: Obesity

Why should I care that I have a high-risk condition?

Obese individuals are at a much higher risk of developing a severe COVID-19 infection, leading to hospitalization and/or death.  Obese individuals are 3X more likely to be hospitalized, making up 30.2% of COVID-19 patients in the hospital in 2020 [3]. Obesity is linked to a weakened immune system, chronic inflammation, higher chances for blood clots, as well as other deadly comorbidities like diabetes and heart disease [1,2].  Obesity also affects the ability for ventilation to be successful while in the hospital, reducing chances of survival even further. Individuals with a BMI between 30-34.9 have a 36% increased chance for ventilation and individuals above a BMI of 45 have a 61% increased chance of death [4]. 

How does COVID-19 affect obese people?

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes what we know as COVID-19, is a respiratory virus.  While many viruses primarily infect the upper respiratory system (nose, mouth), SARS-CoV-2, can also infect the lower respiratory system (lungs), leading to pneumonia and/or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which are deadly in and of themselves. Obese individuals may have reduced lung capacity making it even harder to oxygenate the body. Additionally, inflammation caused by COVID-19 and blood clots are attributed to multi-system organ damage. When hospitalized, obesity can make it harder for physicians to treat severe COVID-19. Ventilation or being laid prone are both tools physicians use to save patients, and become harder when a patient is obese [3,6]. 

What can I do?

There are plenty of ways to reduce your risk for COVID-19 infection including vigilant masking, hand washing, and social distancing. While all of these options help to prevent infection, vaccination is your best option when it comes to the extra protection your body needs it needs to fight off the virus if you do become infected. The Obesity Society has recognized the efficacy of vaccines for obese individuals as data shows that COVID-19 vaccines are 90%+ effective at preventing hospitalization and death [7].  Be proactive; vaccination is a vital step in protecting yourself when you have a high-risk health condition. 

In addition, weight loss is something that individuals can work on to improve their overall health. Eating a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and getting enough sleep are all important steps to consider when developing healthy habits and improving your overall health.

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  1. Shetye, Bharti. Covid-19 and Obesity: What Does it Mean For You? Obesity Action Coalition. Winter 2021.
  2. Demeulemeester F, de Punder K, van Heijningen M, van Doesburg F. Obesity as a Risk Factor for Severe COVID-19 and Complications: A Review. Cells. 2021;10(4):933. Published 2021 Apr 17. 
  3.  Center for Disease Control. Obesity, Race/Ethnicity, and COVID-19. Reviewed November 8, 2021.
  4.  Kuehn BM. More Severe Obesity Leads to More Severe COVID-19 in Study. JAMA. 2021;325(16):1603.
  5. Tay, M.Z., Poh, C.M., Rénia, L. et al. The trinity of COVID-19: immunity, inflammation and intervention. Nat Rev Immunol 20, 363–374 (2020). 
  6. MacMillan, Carrie. Obesity Emerges as Risk Factor for Severe COVID-19 Illness. Yale Medicine. August 10, 2020.
  7. Butsch WS, Hajduk A, Cardel MI, Donahoo WT, Kyle TK, Stanford FC, Zeltser LM, Kotz CM, Jastreboff AM. COVID-19 vaccines are effective in people with obesity: A position statement from The Obesity Society. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2021 Oct;29(10):1575-1579.