Being overweight and the novel coronavirus

THERE is mounting information and misinformation about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. Many are becoming coronavirus news-weary. This is understandable, but inadvisable.

The raw data and research continue to grow and these facts will affect your life, directly or indirectly, in the coming months and years.


Does being overweight affect our immune system?

As with all matters concerning body fat, it is certain there will be varied opinions. Some say, ‘Yes, obviously’, while others say, ‘I am sure there are overweight people with strong immune systems’, and still others say, ‘This is certainly a complex issue with many unknowns’.

However, with the knowledge from past flu research and an increase in the current COVID-19 data, answers regarding the effect of being overweight on immune response are becoming clear.


Overweight, obesity, viral infection and death

• Obesity (severe) is now identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a risk factor for increased COVID-19 severity and mortality (death).

• Obesity was shown in the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic to cause poor prognosis and death.

• In obese individuals, over-nutrition, which results in obesity, causes chronic meta-inflammation, resulting in systemic implication for immune functions, a muted immune response to viral infection, and poor recovery.

• In England, the National Health Service reported that excess weight appears to be a significant COVID-19 factor, with 70 per cent of patients being overweight, obese or clinically obese on the body mass index scale.

• Overweight and obesity are proving far deadlier in New Orleans, where the coronavirus death rate is twice New York’s, according to public health officials.

• Increased obesity in Italy’s population is believed to account for the increased death rate compared to China, states a Journal of the American Medical Association‘s viewpoint.


To understand these outcomes, you only need to realise three things:

1. Not only does excess body fat make breathing more difficult and increase the need for oxygen, it poses a challenge with respiratory infections.

2. Each of us has a level of immune response and function. Let’s say the ideal level is 90 per cent, and that to survive an infection you must stay at 50 per cent or above. The 90 per cent individual may fall to 70 per cent or 60 per cent when infected. The obese individual has a baseline inflammatory state which can drop immune response to a delayed and blunted 70 per cent or 60 per cent, resulting in a lethal 50 per cent or 40 per cent during infection.

3. If an overweight individual survives the initial infection, there is a heightened susceptibility to secondary bacterial infections.


Overweight, obesity and contagiousness

If you are concerned about your own contagiousness to your loved ones through a respiratory infection, you should be aware that:

• Overweight/obese individuals actually have more virus coming out in their exhaled breath, according to a University of Maryland study.

• Obese adults shed the virus about 1.5 times longer ( Journal of Infectious Diseases article from households studied in Managua, Nicaragua, for three flu seasons).


Overweight, obesity and vaccinations

Perhaps, like everyone else, your goal is to remain safe through the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, waiting for the months to pass and to eventually receive a vaccine which will make the world a safe place for you again. However, if you are overweight you are likely to find that this plan is far from ironclad, as:

• Obesity can make the flu vaccination less effective and offer less protection, as published in the International Journal of Obesity on June 6, 2017 by scientists at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

• Overweight individuals have a higher chance of becoming infected with a virus, even after being vaccinated. Although overweight individuals have active antibody responses, it is believed that T-cell components of the immune system are compromised.

• A study of 1,200 vaccinated individuals, over the course of two flu seasons, saw twice the number of obese participants contracting the flu compared to the healthy-weighted participants.

• With an increase of excess weight, individuals experience metabolism changes which impact cells, including immune cells, similarly to elderly individuals. This effectively increases the individuals’ biological age and subsequent responses, regardless of their chronological age. Consequently, an overweight 25-year-old can have the same immune response as an 85-year-old.

There is much more that further evidence and studies will reveal. Hopefully, researchers will pay attention to the effects of nutrition, lifestyle, and ethnicity on susceptibility and survival.

For now, we should be vigilant about our physical protection (social distancing and covering nose and mouth in public), and highly vigilant regarding our ultimate line of defence — our immune system.

This virus isn’t going anywhere. Several risk factors may be unchangeable but being overweight is literally in your hands. We can change our choices and over time, our outcomes.

I implore you – instead of fattening and ‘alcoholing’ up yourself for this deadly virus, be wise and come out of these times leaner, with a new relationship with foods. It is often challenging, but the time is now.

Get support, if necessary. We at Intekai have supported many through this process, and I am certain it is possible for you.


Fitz-George Rattray is the director of Intekai Academy, which is focused on helping people live a healthy lifestyle through nutrition and weight management. If you are interested in losing weight or living a healthier lifestyle, give them a call at 876-863- 5923, or visit their website at intekaiacademy.org.


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