Obesity & COVID-19: What We Know, What You Can Do

Since COVID-19 came onto the healthcare scene in early 2020, researchers have been learning about how the novel coronavirus spreads and which patients are most likely to develop complications.

If you or someone you love is struggling with excess weight, you may have questions about the link between excess weight and COVID-19 and how you can take better care of yourself during this challenging time. NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital understands your concerns. Below are the latest updates to help you better understand obesity and COVID-19 and steps you can take to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, even though you may be stuck at home. This may also be a great time to reach out to one of our weight management physicians who are now accepting new patients, both in-person and through video visits (contact information below).

What We Know About Excess Weight and COVID-19

People with excess weight often have other health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, and sleep apnea (trouble breathing well when they sleep). These other factors raise the chance of having severe COVID-19 when someone contracts the coronavirus.

A number of recent studies have also linked obesity to more severe COVID-19, even in those with no other health problems. For example, preliminary data reported in April 2020 by NewYork-Presbyterian investigators identified obesity as a risk factor for hospital admission. Among 393 adults with COVID-19 treated at two NewYork-Presbyterian hospitals, half of those under age 54 had obesity, compared with an overall obesity rate of only 22 percent in all of New York City. Another preliminary study of more than 4,000 people with COVID-19 treated over one month at another hospital system also found that obesity was a significant predictor of poor outcome, reporting that people with obesity (especially those with a BMI greater than 40) were:

  • Twice as likely to be admitted to the hospital for care
  • Even more likely to require critical care, such as ventilation
  • More likely to die from COVID-19

Similar findings have been reported in studies done by researchers in the southern United States and those in France and China.

How Might Obesity Increase the Risk of Severe COVID-19 Illness?

While it's too soon to know exactly why people with obesity fare worse with COVID-19 than those at a healthy weight, it is believed that chronic inflammation may play a role. In COVID-19, researchers have shown that elevated levels of proteins signaling the presence of inflammation ("inflammatory markers") were among the top signs predicting that a patient's condition could become critical. And obesity promotes inflammation. The inflammatory markers tend to be higher in people with obesity at baseline due to higher amounts of stored fat. Scientists are continuing to study additional underlying factors linking obesity to more severe COVID-19 to learn more about this relationship.

Reducing Your Risk During the Pandemic

Click here to read our physicians, dieticians, and weight management team’s recommendations to achieve weight goals and improve your health during the pandemic.

If you have excess weight, it's even more important that you follow the standard precautions recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for reducing your risk of COVID-19:

  • Wash hands frequently and/or use hand sanitizer
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Maintain "social distancing," staying at least 6 feet away from other people
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow, or a tissue that you immediately discard
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily
  • Stay home as much as possible, especially if you are sick
  • Wear a mask if going out in public where social distancing is not possible

Connect with a Weight Management Specialist

Even though life right now is anything but usual, it's actually a great time to take control of your weight. Whether you are a new patient or an existing NewYork-Presbyterian patient, our weight management experts are available to help and are either in-person or virtual visits to start you on your way.

Metabolic and Weight Control Center
NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center
Telephone: 212-305-5568
Schedule a video visit
Patient portal information

ICHANGE (Innovative Center for Health and Nutrition in Gastroenterology)
NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center
Telephone: 646-962-5483
Schedule a video visit
Visit the patient portal

Comprehensive Weight Control Center
NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center
Telephone: 646-962-2111
Schedule a video visit
Visit the patient portal