Why are overweight and obese people more at risk of falling seriously ill with COVID-19?

According to the World Health Organisation, the Coronavirus can cause more severe symptoms and complications in people with obesity-related conditions. Data emerging from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre in London has shown that out of 196 patients in critical care with confirmed cases of COVID-19:

  • 56 of those patients had a BMI of 25-30 (overweight);
  • 58 of those patients had a BMI of 30-40 (obese); and
  • 13 of those patients had a BMI of 40 of higher (mordibly obese)

These statistics highlight that people who are overweight or obese have higher chances of falling seriously ill with Coronavirus.

Excess body fat forces the immune system to constantly try to protect and repair the damage that the inflammation causes to cells, leaving immune system weakened and with few resources to defend against a new infection like COVID-19.

In addition to a weakened immune system, people who live with obesity often have associated heart disease. Clogged-up arteries can also make it hard for blood carrying immune cells to circulate and travel to various parts of the body to defeat infections.

What should I do about my increased risk?

Simply put – reducing your body weight to a healthier size can reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19. Even losing as little as 5-10% of your body weight can reduce your body’s risk against infections such as COVID-19 and strengthen your immune system.

In a time of uncertainty and crisis that feels as though it is out of our personal control, one thing you CAN control and be proactive about is your health and habits that can encourage weight loss.

If you have already embarked on your weight loss journey to better health, then congratulations! You have helped to protect yourself from the risk of contracting the virus. If not, we are here to provide you with medical support, advice and resources to help you achieve a healthy body weight.

How can I improve my diet in this pandemic?

Ensuring a healthy, balanced diet is more crucial for your health than ever in this pandemic.

One of the best things you can do is make sure you’re eating lots of fresh, non-starchy vegetables everyday, such as:

  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Asparagus
  • Beetroot
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Capsicum
  • Carrot
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Fennel
  • Green beans
  • Lettuce
  • Mushrooms
  • Radish
  • Snow peas
  • Spinach leaves
  • Squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchinis

It is important to minimise the amount of carbs you consume, by avoiding foods like:

  • Bread
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Noodles
  • Dry & sweet biscuits
  • Pastry products

Meal replacement products such as Optifast or Formulite are also a great idea, as they are nutritionally complete and non-perishable. Meal replacements can also be a helpful tool in ensuring a healthy diet right now, with so many of the supermarket aisles being totally empty and wiped clean.

Hydration is also essential for your healthy diet, so make sure you are getting around 8 cups of water everyday!

What exercise can I be doing from home right now to stay active?

It is no secret that exercise is important for maintaining a healthy weight, but with all of us needing to be self-isolating and quarantined at home at the moment, it can be difficult to stay active everyday.

Some ideas for daily exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic include:

  • Walking outside for 30 mins everyday (plus the fresh air is great for you too!)
  • Using our in-house exclusive Alevia Exercise Program available for current patients on the Alevia App
  • Online video tutorials for yoga, pilates, dancing or Zumba classes
  • Body weight exercises that don’t require equipment such as push-ups, mountain climbers, sit-ups and squats
  • Skipping ropes
  • Table tennis matches with family members that you’re quarantined with if you have a ping pong table

As a general rule, you should aim for 10,000 steps everyday to ensure a healthy, active lifestyle.

What about mental health and mindfulness?

Mental health is an essential part of anyone’s weight loss journey. Stress, anxiety and depression, especially in such a time of crisis and uncertainty, can lead to emotional and unconscious eating as a coping mechanism. Moreover, spending much more time at home than you normally would if you’re working/studying at home or just in self-isolation, can lead to eating out of habit, bordedom or just because you have more time on your hands to access your kitchen than you normally would in your day.

It is important to practise mindful eating and monitor these emotional/unconscious eating habits that may be creeping in to your day and preventing you from being able to successfully lose weight. You can check out our quick tips for mindful eating here and our other educational blog post about emotional eating here.

Other tips to help minimise stress, anxiety and depression inclued:

  • Making sure you get a full 8 hours of sleep everynight – you can watch Dr Abs Alnouri’s video on getting better sleep here
  • Regular meditation and mindfulness sessions with lots of deep breathing and physical relaxation – you can find free Youtube videos that will guide you through this
  • Relaxing activities that don’t require any extra brain power like jigsaw puzzles, adult colouring in books, family board and card games
  • Getting outside for some fresh air everyday, even just for a little while
  • Building new routines and schedules that will accommodate for the requirements to self-isolate stay at home
  • Consistently taking any medication to treat existing mental health conditions, as prescribed and instructed by your doctor

If you are struggling with your mental health at the moment, our doctors are available for bulk-billed Telehealth GP consultations. Reach out for further individual medical advice if you are struggling.

Other hotlines you can call for mental health support include:

Lifeline – 13 11 14

Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636

Domestic Violence Support – 1800 RESPECT ( 

How can an Alevia doctor help me to achieve a healthy body weight?

Our Alevia doctors are here and ready to support you in your weight loss journey with bulk-billed Telehealth consultations. Our team of GPs are specialised in obesity management and are trained to provide excellent medical care to our patients with humanity and compassion. Check out our video of Dr Nici Scheepers discussing kindness and compassion in medical weight loss here.

Book an appointment online with one of our doctors for one-on-one support, an individualised treatment plan and medical advice for your diet, exercise and lifestyle regimes.

To read more about what our doctors can do to help you in your weight loss journey, read here.

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26 March, 2020

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