Obesity and COVID-19: A Deadly Combination

Credit: JurongHealthCampus @Facebook

By Wyane

Credit: worldobesity.org

Obesity is a disease that affects a large proportion of the global population. Obesity is not merely an aesthetic matter, but it is a medical condition that can be life-threatening. 

Obesity considerably increases one’s risk of having a large number of diseases, ranging from hypertension to a weakened immune system.

In the United States alone, the obesity rate is about 40 percent of the population, which is significantly higher than other countries such as China, where obesity rates do not exceed 20 percent in adults.

These numbers are all the more alarming given that the world is experiencing a unique situation – the COVID-19 pandemic, which is caused by a coronavirus that  severely impairs the respiratory system and becomes highly fatal in obese patients.

What Is the COVID-19 Virus?

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The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is a highly contagious virus that causes COVID-19, a disease where symptoms can range from mild to severe. 

This is why once it was declared a pandemic, governments worldwide implemented shelter-in-place measures to curb the exponential growth of people getting infected.

The main symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Dry cough
  • General unwellness
  • Fatigue

But the virus can also cause more  unusual or serious symptoms, such as:

  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing or feeling short of breath
  • Inability to speak or move
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Those infected with mild symptoms should remain in isolation for at least 10 days to avoid infecting others. They should also stay well-rested and increase their intake of fluids. 

Acetaminophen can be used to alleviate fever and pain, but the main recommendation is to have the virus confirmed by a doctor.

People at Risk: the Overweight and Obese

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It is important to highlight that although the COVID-19 virus is very contagious, its mortality rate is low. However, there are several risk factors that can increase one’s risk of developing the severe form of the disease. 

For example, older adults, children under 5, people with compromised immune systems, and those with diseases like cancer or diabetes are at higher risk. 

Similarly, people with obesity are also at higher risk, to the extent that they are increased risk of requiring mechanical ventilation due to respiratory failure.

Obese patients who are infected with COVID-19 are twice as likely to suffer from severe symptoms. 

Obesity weakens the immune system’s response to the virus and heightens one’s risk of respiratory complications. This has been affirmed by several studies that concluded that, regardless of sex, people with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 25 (the definition of overweight) can be seriously compromised by COVID-19.

A study in France found that, among the COVID-19-infected patients who developed serious respiratory symptoms and required a ventilator, 75 percent were overweight or obese. In addition, these patients’ need for ventilators was up to double that of the general population.

According to OECD data, about 50 percent of the population in France is overweight or obese.

Healthy alternatives

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Obesity cannot be treated in one night, but it can be progressively improved with time, and this can dramatically improve one’s mental and physical health. 

Doctors have advised that this period of self-quarantine or social distancing is an excellent opportunity for people struggling with weight problems to incorporate healthy habits into their lifestyle.

It is necessary to remember that obesity is not simply an aesthetic problem, but a life-threatening health problem. Understanding this is the first step to initiating lifestyle changes to achieve a healthy weight.

Credit: ritualgym @Instagram
Credit: amorefitnesssg @Instagram

One key lifestyle change is to avoid being sedentary. Experts say that an obese person who exercises regularly is at lower risk than one who rests all day. 

Doctors recommend isometric strength training exercises as well as aerobic exercise, which in combination can improve the body’s condition. 

Long-term physical exercise will improve the healrh of one’s heart, lungs, metabolism and immunity.

Credit: coldstoragesg @Instagram
Credit: coldstoragesg @Instagram

Eating healthily is another excellent measure that, combined with exercise, will greatly impact one’s health. Experts recommend diets low in salt, saturated fat and processed sugar, such as the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet. 

In particular, these diets emphasise eating more whole grains, fruit, vegetables and unsaturated oils to increase one’s satiety and reduce calorie consumption. 

During this quarantine period, it becomes all the more important to cut back on fast foods and snacks rich in sugar and fat.

Credit: worldobesity.org

Importantly, one should introduce changes to your diet and exercise in a moderate and progressive way. Drastic weight-loss methods are unsustainable and can lead to rebound weight gain that can be harmful to the body.

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If you are concerned that you may have been exposed to or contracted COVID-19,  remain calm and contact a doctor who can assess you and continue to monitor you for symptoms. When making dietary and lifestyle changes, it is always recommended that you consult with a healthcare professional.

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