A new finding by researchers from the Alma Mater Studiorum University of Bologna in Italy revealed that obesity is a strong, independent risk factor for respiratory failure, admission to the ICU and death among COVID-19 patients. The extent of risk was tied to a person’s level of obesity after analyzing 482 COVID-19 patients hospitalized between March 1 and April 20, 2020.
The researchers used body mass index (BMI) to define obesity in the study, and although BMI can be misleading in determining whether or not you’re at a healthy body weight, in part because it does not take muscle mass into account. It’s the most commonly used measurement for defining obesity.
If your BMI is between 25 and 29.9, you are considered overweight and anything over 30 is considered obese. However, obesity is often divided into categories, with class 1 defined as a BMI of 30 to 35, class 2 as a BMI of 35 to 40 and class 3 defined as a BMI of 40 or higher, and considered “extreme” or “severe” obesity.
The U.K.’s National Health Service states that you may be at moderate risk from coronavirus if you are “very obese” with a BMI of 40 or above, but the featured study found increased risks started at a BMI of 30, or “mild” obesity.
A July 2020 report by Public Health England also describes the results of two systematic reviews, one of which showed that excess weight worsened COVID-19 severity, and the other that obese patients were more likely to die from the disease compared to non-obese patients.
Additional research has also tied obesity and metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions including excess abdominal fat, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and lipid abnormalities that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes — with more severe viral infections.
Obesity is known to double the risk of influenza, for instance, and increases the duration of stay in the ICU along with the need for invasive mechanical ventilation during such infections.
After spending time in the hospital due to COVID-19, prime minister Boris Johnson announced a new strategy to target obesity in the fight against coronavirus. Johnson believes that his weight made his COVID-19 infection more severe, and reportedly plans to implement bans on TV junk food advertising before 9 p.m., as well as targeting junk food ads online and in stores.
Indeed, processed foods, junk foods and soft drinks are key culprits in the rise of obesity and chronic diseases that have a key role to play in COVID-19 deaths. London-based cardiologist Dr. Aseem Malhotra is among those warning that poor diet can increase your risk of dying from COVID-19.
If you’re obese, focusing on healthy weight loss may help to ward off viral illnesses, including COVID-19. “In the mid- and long-term, weight loss is the definitive answer to reduce the risks in people with obesity. Losing weight will also help you avoid obesity-related health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Adopting a cyclical ketogenic diet, which involves radically limiting carbs (replacing them with healthy fats and moderate amounts of protein) until you’re close to or at your ideal weight, ultimately will allow your body to burn fat — not carbohydrates — as its primary fuel that will help you shed off those extra pounds.
It will also be wise to avoid all processed foods and also limit added sugars to a maximum of 25 grams per day (15 grams a day if you’re insulin resistant or diabetic).
Lastly, get regular exercise each week and increase physical movement throughout your waking hours, with the goal of sitting down less than three hours a day, while also getting sufficient sleep and tending to your emotional health.
Taking steps to lead a healthy lifestyle overall will have a snowball effect, helping you to reach a healthy weight while also bolstering your resilience against infection and disease.