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New study sheds light on weight loss and its impact on COVID-19

Published: Jan. 3, 2022 at 10:53 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Can losing weight reduce your risk of getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19? A new study says yes!

Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in this country, after smoking. If you are overweight or obese, COVID-19 can actually infect your fat cells and trigger dangerous inflammation throughout your body, including your internal organs.

For the first time during this pandemic, there’s now proof that dropping those extra pounds can help protect you from this virus.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Steve Threlkeld with Baptist Memorial Hospital says it’s critical to talk about how obesity impacts COVID, especially in the Mid-South where obesity rates soar.

“I think it’s important for us to put this out there for discussion,” Threlkeld told Action News 5. “I think it’s been surprising, shocking even, to most of us who take care of COVID patients in the ICU that it hasn’t been talked about more until now, because it’s been strikingly important to everybody who takes care of these patients.”

According to an August study in Obesity Review, those who are obese are 46 percent more at risk of getting COVID, face a 113 percent higher chance of being hospitalized, and a 48 percent increased risk of death.

“In fact, it’s particularly so in kids,” Threlkeld said. “Really overweight children are the ones you see in the hospital and in the ICU, greatly disproportionately to others.”

Now, there’s a new study in the JAMA Surgery journal that shows substantial weight loss makes a major difference in your body’s ability to fight off the virus. Dr. Steven Nissen, a cardiologist with Cleveland Clinic who co-authored the study said, “As far as we can tell, if you lose weight, then your risk of serious COVID and COVID morbidity and mortality goes way down.”

“And it’s not just COVID,” Threlkeld added. “There are so many diseases that are affected by weight, obviously high blood pressure is an important one and diabetes is a very important one.”

To find out if you’re overweight or obese, you can check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator. If you’re too heavy, cutting calories is key. Quit eating fast food and opt for healthier choices, and start exercising.

“If COVID is the thing that leads people to get healthy, then so be it.” said Threlkeld. “Maybe something good can come from COVID along with all the bad that we’ve seen.”

If you want some inspiration and helpful information to lose weight, Threlkeld suggests reading “Supersized Lies: How Myths about Weight Loss are Keeping Us Fat – and the Truth About What Really Works,” written by native Memphian Robert Davis.

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