Why is obesity a leading predictor to COVID-19 hospitalizations?

Updated: Jul. 30, 2020 at 9:32 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, another health crisis took a heavy toll on people across the United States…obesity.

“In the Southern United States in particular, we have a real problem of obesity leading to poor health,” said Dr. Leonardo Seoane, Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer with Ochsner Health.

And mixing a worldwide novel virus pandemic with the nationwide obesity epidemic is a dangerous combination.

“What we found is obesity is a leading predictor of who would get admitted to the hospital with COVID,” said Dr. Seoane.

Dr. Seoane and his team studied COVID-19 positive cases within Ochsner Health System. He found obesity increases your chances of being admitted to the hospital by 43 percent.

Another local researcher took notice of these severe cases.

“A lot of them had diabetes, a lot of them hypertension, a lot of them had cardiovascular disease, but the underlying condition in many of these cases is obesity,” said Dr. Candida Rebello, lead author on the project at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

Dr. Rebello specializes in obesity related trials. She set out to find the connection between obesity and COVID-19.

“That’s when I started looking at it to see, ‘why is that obesity predisposes people to severe infection,” Dr. Rebello said.

Her studies pinpoint a hormone that fat cells create, which is called leptin. This hormone regulates both appetite and the cells that fight off infection.

“Leptin is like a link between nutritional status and the immune response,” Dr. Rebello explained.

Fat cells release leptin in proportion to the amount of fat stored.

So, the more fat you have, the more leptin moves around in your body. And a lot of leptin affects your body’s ability to fight off illnesses, like COVID-19.

So, if COVID-19 and obesity are the problems, and leptin is the link, what is the answer from here?

“The only alternative is to prevent that from happening, to prevent leptin levels from going up, and to try to monitor and maintain a healthy body weight,” said Dr. Rebello.

The post doctorate researcher says there is no approved treatment to lower leptin levels. Preventing obesity is the only answer.

Dr. Seoane says this is our time to wake up.

“The fact that people with obesity are at a greater risk for COVID is a good wake-up call for all of us to realize as a society, we have not been very healthy in the south,” said the physician.

These professionals say, generally, a person is obese when their body mass index (BMI), is over 30.

Input your height and weight in the CDC’s BMI calculator to know where you score. Consult your physician if you have questions about BMI or weight loss strategies.

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