Obesity tied to more severe coronavirus illness, doctors say


Obesity can lend itself to a greater severity of illness from COVID-19, due to comorbidities like diabetes, high blood pressure and a weaker immune system, doctors say.

“It’s of vital importance that people control weight as a way to prevent heart disease and all the other issues, like those present before, and on top of that prevent them from getting sick from coronavirus,” Dr. Bob Posner, an internal medicine doctor in Fairfax County, Va., told Fox News.

The difference could mean getting hooked up to a ventilator versus developing a cough, he said.

Abdominal visceral fat acts as a kind of activator to the cytokine storm, Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, with the Jefferson Medical Center of West Virginia University, told Fox News. He explained that the inner lining of blood vessels are “very reactive” to the cytokine storm, and obesity creates a higher susceptibility of illness.

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Meanwhile, the U.S. is still “knee-deep” in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, as officials continue to announce record-breaking surges of new cases in some parts of the country. Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

In that sense, Cucuzzella views the ongoing pandemic as a marathon, saying, “We have this window now where you can get your health more restored.”

“Get rid of sugar and processed carbohydrates,” Cucuzzella said, advocating for a balanced low carbohydrate approach, comprised of high-fiber carbohydrates, optimal protein and healthy fats. “Eat a diet rich in quality animal products and fresh, non-starchy vegetables and eggs.”

Experts advise getting rid of sugar and processed carbohydrates. (iStock)

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Talk of school reopenings could also motivate parents with vulnerable health issues to reexamine nutrition in the household, he said. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, for example, announced students will learn on a “blended” schedule and be limited to a maximum of three days in the classroom while engaging in remote learning for the remainder of the week.

“If you’re a parent and you have diabetes and your kid is going off to school, you better fix your own house now because your kiddo could bring something home,” Cucuzzella warned.

Dr. Mark Cucuzzella of the Jefferson Medical Center, West Virginia University. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Mark Cucuzzella)

Dr. Mark Cucuzzella of the Jefferson Medical Center, West Virginia University. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Mark Cucuzzella)

The hallmark “eat less, exercise more,” weight loss advice may be difficult to follow, Posner says, given chemical cravings. For weight control, Posner recommends maximizing protein and vegetables and reducing carbohydrates, fruits, fats and alcohol. Posner also developed a natural serotonin supplement to curb cravings in adjunct to his medical weight loss program. Prescription medicine like phentermine is also used but Posner ensures a thorough medical history on patients first.

“All of this has people right now who are stressed, they lost their job, they’re eating junk food and they need help,” Cucuzzella said.

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Posner shifts away from the term “diet,” and instead advises his clients to make a lifestyle change, without start and end dates. “There shouldn’t be an end date to weight control,” he says, adding that meal replacement programs and no-carbohydrate plans aren’t sustainable.

Dr. Bob Posner, internal medicine doctor in Fairfax County, Virginia. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Bob Posner)

Dr. Bob Posner, internal medicine doctor in Fairfax County, Virginia. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Bob Posner)

“You are important, you have to take care of yourself. If you don’t, you won’t be here to take care of everyone else,” Posner says, adding that many who have tried diets have failed and are stuck in that mindset of failure.

“Losing weight and keeping that weight off can be done but it must be done with that element of support behind it and must be approached in the right way,” he said. “We must not look at weight loss like a deprivation or sacrifice, like ‘does your diet allow for a cheat day.'”

“I hate that word, ‘cheat,’ because it makes it sound like we’re bad people. Eating carbs doesn’t make us a cheater.”

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Posner cited a slight increase in business since the onset of the pandemic, saying people are truly understanding the importance of having a low-risk status when it comes to severity of COVID-19 illness.

“Help a close friend, be empathetic. It’s powerful for your health. If you can help someone get better, that helps you get better in ways that we don’t even know how to measure,” Cucuzzella said.

Fox News’ Brooke Singman and Vandana Rambaran contributed to this report.



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