Obesity and COVID-19: What you should know

As a bariatric surgeon with over 20 years of experience in the treatment of patients with obesity, I am familiar with the specific problems that affect this population. With coronavirus cases on the rise, I want to address some of the facts and dangers that people with obesity are facing during this unprecedented and uncertain time.

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It’s important to know that the majority of the patients I serve have been struggling with their weight for many years—since childhood or late adolescence, in fact. Contrary to what you might think, the main problem is not just the carrying of extra pounds. Obesity often comes with a multilayered and complex disease process made up of a cluster of life-threatening conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and sleep apnea.

COVID-19 weakens the immune system even more. Underlying these conditions is the fact that the immune system is weakened, and certain metabolic pathways are dysfunctional. Hormonal imbalances cause an increase in inflammation and decrease in immunity, so that when an obese person is exposed to a germ like COVID-19, the virus has a much stronger potential for creating complications.

Once the virus enters a body in which the immune system is weakened, it tends to stay longer. Individuals with obesity must exercise extra caution and prolong their quarantine by one or two weeks should they get exposed to the virus.

So what can be done to mitigate risk? Many of my patients have joint problems and therefore lead a more sedentary lifestyle. However, since exercise is one of the most effective ways to support the body’s immune system, it is important for people who are dealing with obesity and underlying conditions to make small efforts to move more each day. These efforts can be as simple as standing instead of sitting, walking around the block, or just walking around a room in the house.

When it comes to diet, I recommend speaking with a licensed and reputable healthcare provider or dietitian, with an aim to reduce carbohydrate intake, and drink plenty of water.

While all of this is sobering information, there is still a lot that can be done to reduce risk at this time. My advice to is to follow the issued health guidelines, maintain social distancing, increase activity, and wear a mask.

Learn more about the Weight Loss and Metabolic Center at Baylor or call 713–798–6673.

-By Dr. Samer Mattar, professor of surgery and chief of the Division of Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine

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