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Added risk with COVID-19 for people with obesity

Published: Nov. 14, 2020 at 9:15 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Much is still being learned about COVID-19, but at this point in the pandemic, doctors are able to draw the conclusion that obesity puts people at a higher risk of severe symptoms. According to Dr. Sean Lee, co-owner of Anchorage Bariatrics and Director of Perioperative Services at Providence Hospital, studies show obese people could be up to three times more likely to get fatally ill with COVID-19.

It’s because obesity tends to come with a lot of other illnesses, or some of those underlying health conditions.

Lee said it’s things like diabetes, which can make one’s immune system much weaker or hyperventilation syndrome, which can lead to poor lung function.

“There’s a mixture of comorbidities, or illnesses that come along with obesity, that also put them at risk for severe infection,” Lee said. “We know that in a more general sense, that obesity changes the way your body’s immune system works. It tends to be a little bit more pro-inflammatory yet less effective at wound healing.”

Lee explained that some definitions of obesity vary and have some criticisms on how it’s measured, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention goes by having a body mass index of over 30 qualifies for obesity. By that standard, he said around 33% of Alaskans are considered obese.

While obesity does lead to health complications for children as well, Lee said there is little data to see what the effects on younger people with obesity are.

Another factor, Lee said, is showing to have an effect on people’s response to the virus, not necessarily just for people with obesity, is diet and exercise.

“For everybody depending on how much exercise you do and the kinds of food you eat may actually play a role in how your body responds to COVID infection. And you know folks with obesity often have back pain and other things that limit activity to a certain extent,” he said.

As the part of the year where people tend to pack on a few pounds is approaching, Lee said it’s important for folks to get active and make healthy eating choices.

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