Continuing to fight COVID-19: Wear your mask, eat healthy and move more
As we have all been impacted in different ways by the COVID-19 pandemic, data clearly reveals that severe infections have impacted 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 COVID-19 and weight status is not fully understood, most medical professionals believe it involves a myriad of 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. On average American’s 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 convenient and unhealthy food options available and not enough recreation opportunities in our communities. 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, creating barriers to reaching out for help. In my experience as a surgeon, people have a strong desire to protect their health, and achieving a health weight is an important first step. However, working to achieve a healthy weigh can be difficult on your own, which is why having a team of experts to support you throughout your health journey is vital for long term success.
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. For some patients, surgery can be a tool to support weight loss goals.
As COVID-19 continues to impact our communities and our country and continue to mitigate its spread, 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. If you or someone you know has been struggling with weight loss or contemplating surgical weight loss, don’t wait any longer. Take the next step by taking our Health Risk Assessment.
Martin Walko, MD
Parkland Medical Center