COVID-19 and Obesity

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention   suggests that older patients, immune compromised, and obese patients are at greater risk for severe illness with coronavirus. Specifically, they cite a body mass index (BMI) greater than 40 as a risk factor. Data from China also suggests that higher weight is a risk factor for more severe disease with COVID-19. Compared to normal weight people, overweight and obese people had a much higher risk of developing severe pneumonia. Obesity, especially in men, significantly increases the risk of developing severe pneumonia. In Louisiana, some 97% of those killed by COVID-19 had a pre-existing condition, according to the state health department. Diabetes was seen in 40% of the deaths, obesity in 25%, chronic kidney disease in 23% and cardiac problems in 21%.

Obesity is an immune suppressed state. Obesity causes lots of changes to your immune function. There are changes to the white blood cells and the body’s inflammation and antibodies. In addition, obesity CAUSES diabetes in some people. Obesity and diabetes tend to coexist. High blood sugars impair the function of the white blood cells and slows healing/recovery. In general, I have always insisted that we keep patients’ blood sugars below 200 after surgery. However, it makes sense that we also want to get patients’ blood sugars less than 200 prior to surgery as well. I am always amazed at how much the sugars improve PRIOR to surgery, if patients simply stop drinking sodas and eat better. Recently, I have had several patients whose sugars were in the 300’s. After the first couple appointments (and with better eating and mild exercise), their sugars dropped below 200! In China, data showed that from the beginning of the outbreak through Feb. 11, 2020, the death rate among patients with COVID-19 who had diabetes was 7.3% compared with 0.9% in those without any medical problems.

What’s the point? Use your time at home to keep working on your health. Eat your 3 proper meals. Get some regular exercise. Try to do some toning or some cardiovascular exercise daily…you probably have time. If you are a “stress eater”, manage your stress by drinking more water and going for a walk. There is very little risk going outside for a walk if you’re not with other people. In addition, the other people are likely the ones causing your stress. Get away from them for a few minutes!


  1. Obesity and COVID-19 Severity in a Designated Hospital in Shenzhen, China. Lancet. Posted online 1 Apr 2020.
  2. COVID-19: New Orleans’ coronavirus death rate is twice New York’s, and obesity is a factor. Posted April 2, 2020.