Nearly two years into fighting COVID-19, we may have learned how to build our immunity but experts say we have unmasked another killer, obesity. Many people have been talking about the “COVID 15,” referring to gaining 15 pounds during quarantine. But did people really gain weight? This question intrigued researchers. So they examined patient data from electronic health records. Specifically, they looked at 15 million patients’ weight changes the year prior to the start of the pandemic, and then weight change for one year over the course of the pandemic. As it turns out, 39% of patients gained weight during the pandemic, with weight gain defined as above the normal fluctuation of 2.5 pounds. Approximately 27% gained less than 12.5 pounds and about 10% gained more than 12.5 pounds, with 2% gaining over 27.5 pounds. “With so many people working from home and living a much more sedentary lifestyle, obesity has been steadily on the rise,“ said Hans Schmidt, MD, chief, Bariatric Surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center.
In fact, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed 16 states now have obesity rates of 35% or higher. That’s an increase of four states — Delaware, Iowa, Ohio and Texas — in just one year. “Obesity is a leading risk factor for almost every serious disease from diabetes and heart disease, to cancer and even COVID-19,” explained Dr. Schmidt.
Putting on those extra pounds did not happen overnight and taking them off won’t be a simple task. Weight loss is a struggle many of us fight with and it is not always easy to accomplish.
So it may come as no surprise that interest in bariatric surgery is also on the rise. “At one point during the pandemic, it was estimated that 78% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients were obese or overweight and this had a major impact, people realized there was a correlation and were afraid,” explained Dr. Schmidt.
Emerging research may now explain why. A new, non-peer reviewed study found that COVID-19 may infect fat cells directly. The news may suggest that overweight and obese people may be at increased risk for severe disease and long COVID.
Today, Dr. Schmidt’s office is seeing a rise in people interested in learning more about weight loss options, including bariatric surgery.