Fight COVID-19: Wear your mask, eat healthy and move more
As we continue to experience the first wave of COVID-19, preliminary data clearly reveals that severe infections are impacting some people more than others. The elderly, people of color, individuals with chronic health conditions, and people living with excess weight have endured a higher rate of hospitalization and death. Two things that will help all of us are: 1) continuing to wear our face masks, and 2) working on maintaining our own health through physical activity and healthy eating.
While the relationship of weight and COVID-19 is not fully understood, most medical professionals believe it involves myriad factors. Patients with obesity (BMI >30) have higher resistance in their airways, making it difficult to take a deep breath. This impact on breathing becomes a setup for pneumonia, which can trigger a cascade of events, and increase the risk for hospitalization, potentially in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). In addition, excess weight and obesity greatly increase the risk of pre-diabetes, diabetes, and high blood pressure, making us more susceptible to infection.
Obesity has been on the rise nationwide for decades. Per the CDC, the percentage of adults considered obese has increased from 30% to 42% over the last 20 years. Severe obesity (BMI >40) nearly doubled in the same time period.
Why have we seen such an alarming jump in numbers in just the last 20 years? There are a wide range of factors that contribute to the rise of obesity. As Americans, our diets exceed the recommended intake levels or limits in four categories: calories from solid fats and added sugars, refined grains, sodium, and saturated fat. Eighty percent of us do not meet the physical activity and strength training recommendations for healthy living. We have too many unhealthy food options and not enough recreation opportunities in our communities, and our healthcare system focuses more resources on treating medical problems rather than preventing them.
Experts in the field of obesity and metabolic medicine understand this is a complex disease with elements of genetics, behaviors, and the environment—all playing a role in each individual patient’s weight. In addition, there is significant stigma to obesity, creating barriers to reaching out for help. In my experience as a family doctor, people have a strong desire to protect their health and to live at a healthy weight. Virtually all have worked to achieve a healthy weight over the years - they can tell you that it isn’t easy.
The great news is that science-based options do exist: 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week, five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and eliminating sugary drinks are important steps any of us can take toward living at a healthy weight. In addition, medically supervised programs that provide education, structure, and monitoring to revitalize people’s health are highly effective. Behavioral modification through proper nutrition and exercise are pillars of any weight loss plan and are often more successful with the support of trained professionals. The use of FDA-approved medications can often be a helpful adjunct, especially in the beginning of the programs, providing patients with a much-needed boost. Ultimately, for some patients, surgery may also play a role.
COVID-19 continues to impact our communities and our country. I am confident that we will develop vaccines and therapeutics at some point that will help mitigate its spread. For now, we should all do what we can to fight it: wear our face masks, practice good hand hygiene, socially distance, eat healthy, and move more. It is time to get fit to fight COVID-19.
If you are looking for a primary care physician to help you manage your weight visit our online physician directory to schedule an appointment. Concerns about the coronavirus (COVID-19) should not keep you from maintaining your health. We are taking extra precautions to ensure both you and our staff are protected. Visit our coronavirus resource hub for details on all the ways we’re working to keep you safe so you can be confident in getting the care you need.