Why Obesity Is a Double Whammy During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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COVID-19 has proven to be a major challenge for people struggling with obesity.

The pandemic has caused many to put on pounds. At the same time, obesity has emerged as a major risk for severe disease and death from the virus.

A recent survey by the American Psychological Association showed 42 percent of U.S. adults have experienced undesired weight gain during the pandemic, with an average gain of 29 pounds.

Obesity rates were on the rise long before COVID-19. More than 40 percent of adults in the United States fit the obesity definition – a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.

More Severe COVID-19 Effects

After the pandemic began, studies of COVID-19 patients showed obesity may triple the risk of hospitalization with the disease, says Leena Khaitan, MD, MPH, Director of the Bariatric Surgery Program at University Hospitals. The chances of being admitted to intensive care or dying also increase substantially for these patients.

“BMI is an independent risk factor for severe effects of COVID-19,” Dr. Khaitan says. “A very sobering statistic came out in a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It showed 77 percent of nearly 17,000 patients hospitalized with COVID-19  were overweight or obese.”

Obesity increases risk of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and many types of cancer. It also weakens our ability to fight COVID-19 by hampering the immune system and lung function, and causing inflammation.

“We know COVID attacks the blood vessels,” Dr. Khaitan says. “We also know patients who suffer from obesity also have increased inflammation within their bodies They are at high risk for clot formation. Some people call it sticky blood. If you have sticky blood, you’re going to have more problems with this disease.”

Pandemic Pounds

Caregivers in the UH Weight Loss Management Program are hearing from many patients concerned about weight gain during the pandemic. Some people are stress eating, in addition to being less active and dealing with isolation.

Certified nurse practitioner Latonya Fore, CNP says she talks with patients about strategies to overcome the temptation to take in extra calories.

“A lot of patients tell me they are really struggling, putting on weight, stressed out, working from home. They ask, ‘How can I get over this?’”

Her advice to patients:

  • Know the difference between hunger and cravings. Hunger builds gradually. Cravings are specific and often spontaneous.
  • Pre-plan meals and treats the day before. Stick with it.
  • Go heavy on fruits and veggies. Limit the starches. Lean protein and produce are your friends. So is water. A glass of water can take the edge off hunger before a meal. Produce, protein and water will make you feel full and help prevent cravings and between-meal snacks.
  • Shop smart. Make a list and stick to it. A patient told Ms. Fore that curbside grocery pickup during the pandemic helped her kick the habit of impulse buying. Disciplined shopping helps control binge eating.

“If you don’t buy it in the store, then you only have to say no to it once,” Ms. Fore says. “Once it’s in the house, it’s calling you all day long.”

She also suggests keeping a food diary and a calorie budget to help you stay on top of things. Many apps are available, including Lose it! And MyFitnessPal. Fitness trackers are also great tools to help reach weight-loss goals, she says.

Related Links

Whatever your weight loss goals, UH has a solution that will work for you. Our programs include weight loss surgerynon-surgical weight loss procedures, nutrition and diet-based programs. Our comprehensive team of experts can help you find the right program to achieve your weight loss success. Learn more about weight-loss management services at UH.

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