WHY DOES OBESITY INCREASE THE RISK OF CORONAVIRUS?
Recently there have been a number of articles suggesting a link between obesity and coronavirus, and more worryingly, studies are showing that who are experience the more severe effects of coronavirus are also more likely to be obese. This blog explores what the link is and steps you can take to reduce your risk.
Obesity and Coronavirus
Obesity refers to the disease in which an individual is considered to be severely overweight, and is a condition which can expose them to other health issues including but not limited to: heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and more recently, COVID-19. In the UK, more than 20% of the population is considered to be obese according to the NHS, with the trend growing in recent years. With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to spread throughout the world, there is growing evidence to suggest that those who suffer from obesity have an increased risk of COVID-19 and its potential complications. Recent reports suggest that two-thirds of people who have fallen seriously ill with coronavirus were overweight or had obesity. Given the high rates of global obesity, the World Obesity Federation says a high percentage of people who contract coronavirus “will also have a BMI over 25”. As a result, it is important to understand whether you are at risk or not.
According to the World Health Organization, an individual is considered to be obese if they have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 30. You can calculate your BMI by dividing your weight (in kilograms) by your height (in meters) squared. You can calculate your BMI here.
Why are people with Obesity more at risk?
People who are considered obese bear a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 as they carry more fat, which both reduces your lung capacity and your overall fitness. In turn, this makes it more difficult for the body to get your blood oxygenated which also affects your heart and blood flow. Ultimately, being obese actively puts more stress on the lungs that results in a greater overall pressure on the body system.
During an infection like as coronavirus, the added pressure on the body can lead to greater complications – especially for infections that attack the lungs (such as COVID-19). In this situation, the body becomes overwhelmed with the lack of oxygen that is distributed to its cells, which explains why a higher percentage of those in intensive care that require ventilators are obese.
Furthermore, other aspects of obesity also make those who have the disease more likely to become infected. There is increasing evidence that the COVID-19 virus may enter the body via an enzyme called ‘ACE2’. Higher levels of this molecule are often found in fat tissue (or adipose tissue), which may also offer an explanation as to why more obese people are affected.
In addition to this, infections typically weaken the body's immune response, which is its ability to fight off the virus. For those of us in the obese category, we often possess a weaker immune response due to a type of immune cells called ‘macrophages’, which invade fat tissue and hinder the bodies reaction to a virus or infection. This can lead to a variety of severe complications, including an over-reaction of the immune system which may cause further inflammation of our vital organs.
Protecting yourself from Coronavirus
Whilst being obese puts you a higher risk of from coronavirus, the measures you can take to protect yourself are more or less in line with the precautions that we should all be taking. However, as those of us who are obese may experience greater complications, it’s important to be more vigilant in following the precautions.
You can reduce your risk from coronavirus by following current advice:
- Self-isolate for 14 times if you have symptoms or to follow wider government advice such as international quarantine rules
- Wash your hands regularly (for more than 20 seconds), especially after being in a public space
- Wear a protective face mask if recommended by the authorities
- Avoid touching your face
- Practice social distancing (more than 1 meter) as indicated by government guidelines
- Exercise frequently and avoid sitting for long periods of time – if you’re new to exercise start with a daily walk and build up from there
- Make healthier food choices to give your body the best nutritional base – read our Dietitian’s blog for more advice
Losing weight safely
If you are in the obese category, it’s important for your health to lose weight. However, it’s equally as important to do this safely and sustainably. Many people benefit from seeking GP or Dietitian advice before starting their weight loss journey.
Our resident dietitian, Charlotte Foster, can provide a thorough consultation for better understand your goal and work with you to create a sustainable diet plan using evidence-based nutritional support. Charlotte can also rule out any dietary sensitives or allergies which may be hindering your progress.
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If you would like to speak to a GP for help with weight management, you can book into any of our clinics or have a video consultation. Our GPs will be able to help you with the physical, physiological and mental health impact of your diet to give you the best chance in achieving your goals safely and sensibly.
Getting a private coronavirus test
Due to the increased risk of contracting Coronavirus if you are obese, it is important to get tested for the virus if you have symptoms as soon as possible. If you have symptoms, you can get a swab test to determine whether you have the active virus through the NHS as designated drive-in centres.
If you don’t have symptoms but still wants a test, London Doctors Clinic offers a variety of in-clinic and home-testing solutions for COVID-19 to help you know your current status. These include:
- Antibody Clinic Testing - to see if you’ve had the virus
- PCR Swab Testing Home Test - to see if you currently have the active virus
- COVID Health MOT – a health screen to check your overall health and wellbeing (includes the COVID-19 antibody test)
You can read more about our private coronavirus testing and book and appointment here.
London Doctors Clinic also offers corporate testing solutions for employers and well as company health screens to support the overall health and wellbeing of your people.