Obesity can increase the risk of severe COVID-19. It may also increase a person’s risk of developing the virus due to a weakened immune system.
This article reviews what a person needs to know about the effects that obesity has on COVID-19.
All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub for the most recent information on COVID-19.
This means people with obesity may need to protect themselves more from exposure to the virus by wearing a mask and washing their hands.
Obesity is a known risk factor for severe COVID-19. According to the
- triple the risk of hospitalization
- make breathing and ventilation more difficult
- increase the risk of death and need for stays in the intensive care unit (ICU)
In addition, the CDC notes that people with obesity accounted for about 30% of all hospitalizations for COVID-19 between the beginning of the pandemic and November 2020.
Children with obesity may also have a higher risk of severe COVID-19.
According to a
Evidence suggests that obesity can impair the immune system.
In a 2018 study, researchers looked at how systemic inadequate (malnourished) and overabundant (obesity) nutrients affect T cells and other aspects of the immune system. Researchers noted that obesity is associated with:
- increased inflammation
- increased risk factors for cardiovascular disease
- decreased protective immunity
In other words, a person with obesity may have a more difficult time fighting off an infection, such as COVID-19.
According to the
Obesity and overweight rates have also risen in children. According to a large
Children with obesity or overweight had the most pronounced increase in BMI during this time.
Preventing COVID-19 can be an important first step for people with obesity or overweight.
A person with overweight or obesity
- staying home when unwell
- staying up to date on immunizations for infants, children, and adults, including COVID-19 vaccines
- washing hands regularly
- wearing a face mask when physical distancing is not possible
- keeping a distance of 6 feet (1.8 meters) between people and avoiding crowds, when possible
- sanitizing, cleaning, and disinfecting surfaces
- covering the mouth when coughing
A person may also consider taking steps to lose weight, which can help improve overall health and help prevent severe infections from occurring.
Some steps that may help with weight loss
- talking with a doctor or nutritionist to create an eating plan
- increasing physical activity throughout the day or week
- discussing weight loss medication with a doctor
- setting goals and reasonable expectations
- joining weight loss programs or organizations
- discussing possible intervention devices with a doctor, such as a gastric balloon system, or bariatric surgery
A person may want to order at-home COVID-19 tests. When symptoms are not severe, it may help a person avoid a doctor’s visit and help prevent transmitting germs to others by staying home from school or work.
A person with COVID-19 symptoms may want to consider contacting a doctor for treatment. A doctor can diagnose and recommend treatments. They can also confirm an at-home test diagnosis.
A person should seek immediate emergency care if they experience trouble breathing. This could be a sign of severe infection.
A person with obesity or overweight may have a higher chance of severe COVID-19. They may also have a higher chance of developing an infection when exposed to the coronavirus.
A person can help reduce their risk by avoiding crowded public spaces, getting vaccinated, and avoiding people with known exposure to COVID-19 or other illnesses. Washing their hands regularly and wearing a mask can also help people prevent COVID-19.
If a person develops COVID-19, they should stay home from work or school, if possible. They may want to talk with a doctor for diagnosis and treatment options. A person with severe symptoms that cause breathing issues should seek emergency medical attention.