Obesity and COVID

by Carol Bazis, LCSW-C 

People who struggle with obesity – having a body mass index of 30 or higher – are at greater risk  for a range of diseases including heart disease and stroke which, according to the Centers for  Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2022) are two of the leading causes of death in the United  States. Obesity also places one at greater risk of coronavirus infection, hospitalization, and death. 

According to a study by the CDC (2022), there is evidence demonstrating that adults and children  with excess weight are also at greater risk for more serious outcomes from COVID-19 infection.  Below are some of the complications and negative outcomes that have been reported by the CDC  (2022): 

• Having obesity increases the risk of severe illness from COVID-19. People who are  overweight may also be at increased risk. 

• Having obesity may triple the risk of hospitalization due to a COVID-19 infection. • Obesity is linked to impaired immune function. 

• Obesity decreases lung capacity and reserve and can make ventilation more difficult. • A study of COVID-19 cases suggests that risks of hospitalization, intensive care unit  admission, invasive mechanical ventilation, and death are higher with increasing BMI. o The increased risk for hospitalization or death was particularly pronounced in those  under age 65. 

• More than 900,000 adult COVID-19 hospitalizations occurred in the United States between  the beginning of the pandemic and November 18, 2020. Models estimate that 271,800 (30.2%) of these hospitalizations were attributed to obesity. 

Adults with obesity are not the only ones who suffer severe negative outcomes from COVID-19  infection. Children diagnosed with obesity may also suffer worse outcomes from COVID-19 when  compared to their non-obese peers. According to the CDC (2022), a study of COVID-19 cases in  patients aged 18 years and younger, found that having obesity was associated with a 3.07 times  higher risk of hospitalization and a 1.42 times higher risk of severe illness (intensive care unit  admission, invasive mechanical ventilation, or death) when hospitalized). 

Many, if not most of us, have put on a few extra pounds as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown.  In fact, there has been a national increase in obesity, with some states reporting obesity rates of  over 35%. The 2020 CDC Adult Obesity Prevalence Maps show that obesity remains high – sixteen states now have an adult obesity prevalence at or above 35 percent: Alabama, Arkansas,  Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma,  South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. This is up from twelve states in 2019. 

So what can we do to decrease obesity rates? Chan (2022) of Harvard’s School of Public Health  recommends the following: 

• Choosing healthier foods (whole grains, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and protein sources)  and beverages

• Limiting unhealthy foods (refined grains and sweets, potatoes, red meat, processed meat) and  beverages (sugary drinks 

• Increasing physical activity 

• Limiting television time, screen time, and other “sit time” 

• Improving sleep 

• Reducing stress 

Additionally, the CDC has provided the following resources to assist you in creating a healthy  lifestyle. 

• Food assistance programs and food system guidance during COVID-19 • Strategies to support healthy food systems, create activity-friendly environments,  and prevent obesity. 

• Healthy Eating for a Healthy Weight 

• Physical Activity for a Healthy Weight 

• Adult BMI Calculator 

• CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity (DNPAO) 

While obesity has been a national health concern for some time now, the increased rates since the  beginning of COVID 19 calls for more attention to be paid to this health problem. We must take  this health risks related to obesity seriously beginning with increasing adults’ and children’s knowledge on making better food choices, increasing exercise, and learning ways to effectively  decrease stress. 

Adult Obesity is Increasing


Chan, T.H. (2022). Obesity prevention strategies. Obesity Prevention Source.   Harvard’s School of Public Health. source/obesityprevention/#:~:text=Choosing%20healthier%20foods%20(whole%20grains,%2C%2 0and%20other%20%E2%80%9Csit%20time%E2%80%9D 

Hubbard, K. (2021, September 15). The pandemic has worsened the U.S. obesity epidemic. US News and World Report. states/articles/2021-09-15/the-pandemic-has-worsened-americas-obesity-epidemic report-finds 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Obesity, Race/Ethnicity, and   COVID-19. 


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