Published on December 16, 2020

Obesity Increases Your Odds of a Bad Bout of Covid-19

Obesity is a serious issue in America, affecting some three-quarters of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To make matters worse, experts say those who are obese have a greater chance not only of catching COVID-19, but to become seriously ill with the virus.

“People who are obese are more likely to have underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, which can leave them more prone to COVID-19,” said Dr. Brian Lahmann, renowned bariatric surgeon at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox.

“And you are at a higher risk for complications or even death when you have these conditions along with a severe respiratory infection such as this virus.”

Obesity Around the Nation

A new report from the CDC states 35 percent of adults say they are obese. A person is considered obese if their body mass index, or BMI, is 30.0 or higher, according to the CDC.

Nearly 32 percent of adults in Illinois said in 2019 they were obese. The CDC report further said there were 12 states where at least 35 percent of adults said they were obese: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

That is up from nine states that reported obesity rates above 35 percent, the report said. The recent report said obesity rates among adults in all states were at least 20 percent. Colorado and the District of Columbia were the lowest.

The 2019 CDC obesity report showed that all states had obesity rates of 20 percent or higher among adults. The lowest obesity prevalence rates were in Colorado and the District of Columbia.

At Risk Populations

Adults ages 45 to 54 were almost twice as likely (37.6 percent) to struggle with obesity as those 18 to 24 (18.9 percent). And Black adults had the highest prevalence of self-reported obesity at nearly 40 percent, followed by Hispanic adults (nearly 34 percent) and white adults (30 percent).

Regardless of whether they are obese, Black and Hispanic adults already are at greater risk for coronavirus illness due to systemic issues, the CDC said.

"Racial and ethnic minority groups have historically not had fair opportunities for economic, physical, and emotional health, and these inequities have increased the risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19 for some groups," the agency said. "Many of these same factors are contributing to the higher level of obesity in some racial and ethnic minority groups."

The CDC said the findings show a need for systemic changes that prevent access to good health. While that will take time, the agency recommends all people, not just those who are obese: eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean protein and whole grains, paying close attention to caloric intake; remain active, which not only makes you feel and sleep better and reduces anxiety but can also assist in weight loss; and manage stress, which the CDC said has worsened during the pandemic.

The Effects of the Pandemic on Obesity

The CDC report does not take into account the effect of the coronavirus pandemic has had on obesity. Still, Lahmann and his colleagues say they have seen or heard anecdotally about people who gain a “COVID 20,” as in extra pounds, especially during quarantine periods.

“When people are stressed, they eat, especially comfort foods that are high in calories, fat and salt,” he said. “Couple that with getting fewer opportunities for the usual exercise, such as walking around at work, or going to the gym, the pounds go on very quickly. And each BMI percentage point puts them at higher risk for many serious illnesses, including COVID-19.”

Silver Cross Hospital’s weight loss surgery program is the only one in Will County that has been named a MBSAQIP accredited center – Comprehensive and Blue Distinction Center for Bariatric Surgery.

Depending on the patient’s needs, Lahmann and Dr. Christopher Joyce offer several options for safe weight reduction through bariatric surgery, having performed more than 7,500 such procedures. They and their team at Silver Cross also provide in-patient and out-patient support, knowing the surgery is only the beginning of their lifestyle change.

For more information on the Bariatric Program at Silver Cross Hospital, call 815-717-8744, or visit, where you also can reserve a spot at an informational seminar led by Dr. Joyce or Dr. Lahmann.

Physicians on Silver Cross Hospital’s Medical Staff have expertise in their areas of practice to meet the needs of patients seeking their care. These physicians are independent practitioners on the Medical Staff and are not the agents or employees of Silver Cross Hospital. They treat patients based upon their independent medical judgment and they bill patients separately for their services.