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Obesity now joins the list of “underlying health conditions” that make COVID a higher-risk illness

Published: Sep. 14, 2020 at 5:54 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) -By now you’ve probably heard that the most vulnerable people in getting severely ill from the coronavirus are older adults and people with underlying health conditions, in other words people who already have some other medical problems.

But the list of “underlying health conditions” continues to grow as we continue to get more research on the COVID-19 illness.

“Underlying health conditions does not mean that someone is sick or feeble or infirmed," said Kathryn Wall, the Public Information Administrator with the Greene County Health Department. “It could mean living completely normal lives so we certainly don’t want to have the misconception that it’s only people who are sick. It’s much broader than that.”

Most of us know that heart and lung conditions certainly qualify as underlying health conditions. But as new studies are done other conditions are being added by the CDC.

The CDC points out that those most at-risk fall into two categories: older adults and those with underlying conditions.

The underlying conditions category has a pair of sub-categories as well.

One is the list for those who MIGHT be at an increased risk that includes people with asthma, cystic fibrosis, high blood pressure, weakened immune systems, neurological conditions like dementia, liver disease, pregnancy, scarred lung tissue, smokers or type 1 diabetes.

The second category is a list of those who ARE at increased risk which includes people with cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, weakened immune system from an organ transplant, type 2 diabetes, sickle cell disease, serious heart conditions and obesity (which is defined as a body mass index of 30 or higher).

A study of U.S. COVID patients revealed that 77 percent (three out of every four people) are overweight or obese and 48 percent of obese patients were more likely to die. Research has also shown that those who are mildly overweight are 10 percent more likely to die or need mechanical ventilation to survive while morbidly obese patients are 60 percent more likely to die or require intubation.

“In Greene County 33 percent of our population is considered obese," Wall said. "So I know we’ve talked about our older population and our specific concerns about them but obesity touches all our population groups and that’s definitely something we want people to be aware of.”

So no matter what your underlying health condition might be Wall points out that it is so much more important for those with pre-existing health problems to take extra care not to get the virus because the chances of you getting a more severe case of the illness is much higher.

“I fit into one of these categories myself," Wall said. “I unfortunately have missed a lot of family events. I haven’t gone to brunch with my girlfriends for a long time because I’m just in that category that I shouldn’t be doing those kind of things right now. It’s a sacrifice and it’s tough. But it’s just not worth the risk. One of the things that’s so interesting about this disease is that you’re infectious up to two days before you ever feel symptoms. So you might not know you’re carrying it. You might not know you’re infectious.”

So why does obesity contribute to the severity of a COVID illness?

Doctors say there are a number of factors including impaired immunity, chronic inflammation, and blood that’s more likely to clot in people who are overweight.

Copyright 2020 KY3. All rights reserved.

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