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Obesity a major risk factor for COVID-19, study shows

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(iStock / MartiSaiz)

Certain risk factors for COVID-19 complications are well known, such as advanced age.

According to a recent study, after age, the next strongest predictor of suffering complications from COVID-19 is severe obesity.

“I think it is important for people to understand that obesity is a risk factor and that just like we’re telling people to take extra care if they are elderly, or if they have some underlying health problem, it’s very important for people who have obesity to understand that they may be at increased risk as well, and to take increased precautions,” said Cleveland Clinic’s Leslie Heinberg, Ph.D., who did not take part in the study.

Heinberg said, oftentimes, patients with severe obesity also have chronic issues like heart disease and pulmonary disease, which can increase their risk for complications should they contact COVID-19. Having severe obesity also makes it more likely for a person to have breathing trouble, which can be dangerous when combined with coronavirus.

“Patients with severe obesity are more likely to have hypoventilation syndrome, which is difficulty with breathing associated with adiposity and excess tissue around the lungs,” said Heinberg. “This makes it harder for people to breathe deeply. Also, the ACE-2 receptor, which seems to be a gateway for the virus to enter the body, is made of fat cell tissue, which may make it more likely for people with more fat cells to have an easier way for the virus to enter the body.”

Heinberg admits many people are struggling with eating right now – as stress often makes us reach for unhealthy foods. She recommends keeping the kitchen stocked with foods that fuel health.

“This is probably not the time for people to successfully undertake a major lifestyle change and a diet, but it’s best to try not to gain weight during this time period,” said Heinberg. “Try to eat a healthy diet, get some physical activity, get enough sleep – all of these things can help our immune systems.”

Heinberg said the most important thing we can do is take all of the precautions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seriously to protect ourselves and those around us. This includes social distancing, hand washing and avoiding gatherings.