How Can People with Obesity Reduce Their COVID Risk?
— By Andrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D.
Immunocompromised groups, including people with obesity, continue to have poor outcomes related to coronavirus.
As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccinations and other precautions have been effective in reducing hospitalizations and deaths resulting from the disease. However, immunocompromised groups, including people with obesity, continue to have poor outcomes related to coronavirus.
From early on it quickly became clear that obesity was a high risk factor for severe illness related to COVID-19 and that it increased the likelihood of hospitalization by nearly 30 percent. Obesity is also the cardiometabolic condition that contributes the highest health risk, followed by hypertension and diabetes, which are often comorbidities of obesity.
However, with the introduction of new and more contagious variants, vaccine effectiveness decreased in certain immunocompromised groups. The introduction of Omicron, which is highly transmissible even among those who are vaccinated, creates additional challenges for people with obesity because it infects adipose cells and adipose tissue macrophages, causing a damaging inflammatory response. This is evidenced by a death rate that is nearly 10 times higher in countries with high levels of obesity, including the U.S.1
Reducing COVID Risk among Obese Populations
A recent study published in JAMA Surgery found that substantial weight loss can be a modifiable risk in terms of COVID severity. Patients who lost weight had lower risk for hospitalization, need for supplemental oxygen, and risk of severe COVID-19 infection. They also experienced better outcomes after becoming infected.2
Although the referenced study used bariatric surgery as the weight loss mechanism, the overall conclusion was the negative health outcomes can be reversed with weight loss for patients with obesity that have COVID-19. Indeed, one of the authors emphasized that weight loss, not the means used to achieve it, is the critical factor to be considered. This suggests that other methods leading to significant weight loss, such as a Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD), could have equally beneficial outcomes. In addition to substantial weight loss, VLCDs improve blood sugar levels and decrease the risk of heart disease, which also are associated with poor outcomes related to COVID.
A further recommendation from the study was a call for public health strategies that put a greater emphasis on weight loss, not only to limit the consequences of this pandemic but also to minimize the impact of future outbreaks of other infectious diseases. Given the growing number of people with obesity in the U.S., creating more prominent awareness of the negative health outcomes of obesity through a long overdue public health campaign could have an important impact across populations and help stop or potentially even reverse the effects of this epidemic.
About the Author: Dr. Andrea Pampaloni has over 20 years of communication experience across corporate, academic, nonprofit and government sectors. She provides research and writing services on a range of business issues and industry-specific topics to prepare white papers, articles, proposals, presentations, technical content, and speaking points, as well as marketing-communications content such as blogs, website content, newsletters, news releases and award submissions. Dr. Pampaloni’s research findings have been presented at national and international conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals, and she is a ghostwriter for three books, a Forbes article, and several corporate blogs.