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The connection between obesity and COVID-19 — and how you can combat the ‘Quarantine 15’
Weight Loss

The connection between obesity and COVID-19 — and how you can combat the ‘Quarantine 15’

By Matthew Davis, MD, Bariatric Surgeon | UT Methodist Physicians Weight Management and Wellness Center
Posted: July 13, 2020

The term “Quarantine 15” has been tossed around recently to denote the weight that some have gained while sheltered at home. This phenomenon — like the “freshman 15” — has entered our vernacular and has a light-hearted feel to it.

Some attribute the weight gain to decreased activity, increased stress-eating or the home-baked banana bread and influence of the sourdough craze. Many who talk about being affected by the quarantine 15 are confident that they’ll be able to drop the extra weight once life returns to normal (or at least a “new normal”).

Though a good amount of people will be able to shed those pounds quickly, some may not and will need to develop a weight loss routine.

While we have seen an uptick in weight gain since lockdown, what is more concerning are those who were already significantly overweight when the pandemic began. When the first wave of COVID-19 diagnoses began, the expected list of medical risk factors that were highlighted included age, heart disease, lung disease and the immunocompromised. Now, a new risk factor has emerged and may even explain why our country has been hit so hard by the virus.

After reviewing cases of COVID positive patients who get sicker, obesity has been shown to be a significant factor in disease worsening. This risk is increased for those suffering from severe obesity (BMI 40 or greater).

While older people generally have other medical issues that make them more vulnerable to the disease, younger people with obesity may have this as their only risk factor. With 40% of the US population being obese, this is one of the factors that has contributed to COVID being such a significant public health crisis in our country.

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For those suffering from obesity, it is important to recognize that while you may have an average risk of contracting the disease, you are at higher risk for a worsening progression of the illness. As such, extra vigilance is necessary to minimize the risk of catching COVID — and to recognize symptoms if they arise.

Even more important is taking steps to decrease excess weight in a sustainable, healthy way. While this can be difficult in normal times, it is clearly more difficult in the current climate for many reasons.

Access to gyms, pools and parks is limited — and stressful times make it difficult for us to eat right and make healthy food choices. Additionally, many of us have had our focus shifted away from our own health to take care of loved ones.

With case numbers steadily rising, it appears COVID will be with us for the foreseeable future, and that means taking the necessary measures to decrease our risk.

Healthy, sustainable weight loss takes time and effort to achieve. We need to take steps in the right direction to shift the balance in our favor to fight this virus.

That means those at a healthy weight will need to work harder to maintain that weight. Those that have put on the “Quarantine 15” should identify what changes to their environment during the lockdown led to the weight gain and work to reverse them. And those struggling with obesity should speak with health professionals who are well versed on weight management for the best options to improve their weight and decrease their vulnerability.

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