Does losing weight lower COVID-19 infection risk?

Obese patients with COVID-19 are 74% more likely to end up in ICU, doctor says

East Alabama Medical Center nurse Abby Smith works on a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020, in Opelika, Ala. The medical center faces a new influx of COVID-19 patients as the pandemic intensifies. (AP Photo/Julie Bennett)
East Alabama Medical Center nurse Abby Smith works on a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020, in Opelika, Ala. The medical center faces a new influx of COVID-19 patients as the pandemic intensifies. (AP Photo/Julie Bennett) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

More than 40% of adults in the U.S. are obese and obesity is one of the top underlying health conditions associated with COVID-19 deaths.

Obese patients who contract COVID-19 are 74% more likely to end up in the ICU and 48% more likely to die. But why?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN chief medical correspondent, said it’s partly due to how our bodies are built.

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“Our diaphragm is one of the major muscles that helps with breathing. Breathe in and the diaphragm contracts and the lungs expand to take in oxygen, but if you’re obese, fat in the abdomen can push on the diaphragm limiting how much air you take in,” Gupta said.

Obesity is a precursor to other health conditions such as heart and lung disease, diabetes, an impaired immune system, chronic inflammation and blood that’s more likely to clot.

“Add COVID-19 to that and the risk goes up even more,” Gupta said. “See the cells that line your blood vessels and regulate blood flow, they’re known as endothelial cells and they can become damaged when you’re infected with coronavirus.”

Gupta said fat cells themselves may also be more susceptible to coronavirus: “The virus attaches to cells in our bodies through the ACE2 receptor, that’s a protein that’s on the surface of many cells. It turns out that fat tissue has a high level of ACE2 receptors thus acting in some ways like a reservoir for the virus.”

Regardless of your weight, you can reduce your COVID-19 infection risk by wearing a mask, social distancing and washing your hands.

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