08 Jun Obesity and COVID-19 Risk
Those who suffer from obesity are more at risk for COVID-19. The most useful way to prepare for the return of COVID-19 is to identify who is at risk and protect them. We have all heard about the elderly being at highest risk of being infected. But sufficient data have shown that people who are obese have also been identified as a high-risk group. Studies from the US and Europe demonstrate that there is an increase in hospitalization associated with a higher BMI.
Why is there a connection between obesity and COVID-19?
A significant number of patients with a BMI greater than 35 required ventilators. It is not just the weight that puts the morbidly obese population at risk, but it is the obesity-related comorbidities (ie, hypertension, sleep apnea, diabetes) that heighten the risk. For example, obstructive sleep apnea causes respiratory impairment which leads to low oxygen supply in the body and requires a ventilator for treatment. High blood pressure is a common comorbidity associated with morbid obesity and it has been shown to result in more severe cases of COVID-19 requiring hospitalization. Likewise, type 2 diabetes with obesity is another risk factor for worse outcomes and complications with the virus.
We have learned so much about COVID-19 in the past 5 months, and we will continue to learn more as the pandemic unfolds. While the first big outburst is starting to fade, we still have about 200 new cases being reported daily in Colorado. This family of corona viruses tends to diminish during the summer heat, but is likely to return into the fall and winter months. Therefore, it is important to prepare as best we can for its possible return.
So how do we prevent getting the virus and/or lessen the severity of the virus?
First: Prevention. You will not get the virus if you do not come into contact with it. This is the whole premise behind the stay-at-home order or the shutdown of states that we have just witnessed. For some people this works, but for most of us we still need to work outside the home. The more you are able to social distance and be “safer at home” the less likely you will be exposed. Other effective measures for avoiding the virus include staying away from crowds, wearing a mask, and washing your hands frequently.
We may be able to lessen the severity of the virus by treating the obesity. If you are obese, meaning a BMI of 30-35, seek medical weight loss this summer. Addressing obesity could help make you better equipped for the fall. Diet, exercise, and even medical therapy could reduce your risk for contracting a severe case of the virus. If you have a BMI over 35 and have sleep apnea, high blood pressure, or type 2 diabetes, surgical weight loss is a good option.
Surgical weight loss procedures like the sleeve gastrectomy or the gastric bypass will resolve the morbid obesity risk factor. Other obesity-related comorbidities will also improve or resolve with weight loss surgery. These include sleep apnea (65%), hypertension (65%), and type 2 diabetes (60-80%). The percentages after those comorbidities reflect the percentage of people who see resolution. Seeing a resolution of those obesity related illnesses will diminish the risk of suffering a severe case of COVID-19.
How do we move forward?
Unfortunately, history tells us that the virus will most likely be with us for another 12-18 months before we develop an effective vaccine. Put a plan together to prevent getting the virus. If you are obese, consider weight loss treatment. Treatment can be either medical or surgical. Effectively treating your obesity will minimize your risk for serious outcomes and complications associated with being infected.
As always, the Colorado Bariatric Surgery Institute and Peak Medical Weight Loss Clinic are here to help you with your weight loss goals. Please feel free to reach out to us (303-861-4505) with questions or to schedule an appointment.
Dr. Tom Brown
Colorado Bariatric Surgery Institute