Obesity and COVID-19

No matter what you weigh, you should be following the COVID-19 safety guidelines. However, if you are obese – if you have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or above, or you have diabetes – you should be even more careful.

Kentucky ranks as one of the top states nationally with the highest obesity and diabetes rates. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kentucky is one of 12 states where 35% or more adults were obese in 2019.

Obesity is also a major risk factor for severe COVID-19 infection. Patients with obesity don’t breathe as well or efficiently as people who are not obese because more fat in the abdomen pushes up the diaphragm. COVID-19 attacks the patient’s lungs and cardiovascular system, so if you already have trouble breathing, COVID-19 can exacerbate the problem.

Obese patients cannot clear infection as well as others and are usually more prone to blood clotting. We know blood clotting can be a major issue for COVID-19 patients. In some cases, doctors say COVID-19 patients are developing blood clots that are causing heart attacks and strokes.

Generally, patients with obesity also have other chronic health conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. These conditions also increase your risk for more severe COVID-19 infection.

Patients with diabetes should take particular care to follow proven COVID-19 prevention measures. If patients with diabetes develop symptoms of COVID-19, they should contact their primary care provider and diabetes care provider. COVID-19 has been shown in clinical studies to often precipitate dangerous spikes in blood sugar levels requiring specialized care.

Excess fat tissue seen with patients with obesity and diabetes is also a problem because it sets up a pro-inflammatory state in our bodies. Fat cells secrete substances that tend to promote inflammation in other places of your body. This can contribute to the cytokine storm that has been implicated in many severe COVID-19 cases.

The best way to prevent contracting COVID-19 is to follow the guidelines:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Keep at least 6 feet of distance between yourself and people who don’t live with you.
  • Wear a mask when you’re around other people.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.
  • Watch for fever, cough, shortness of breath or other COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Avoid crowds of people.

If you or a loved one are struggling with your weight, UofL Health can help. To make an appointment with Primary Care at UofL Health, call 502-588-4343.