David speaks with ABC7 News Michelle Marsh about obesity and severe COVID-19 infections
Aside from pre-existing health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, what other factors might make someone more susceptible to a severe COVID-19 infection? What do we know about the link between obesity and severe COVID-19 cases, particularly in young adults?
Kass' response: "I think one of the things we found and this wasn't being highlighted as a risk factor prior to the arrival of COVID to the United States were people who were morbidly obese. When you have a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or higher that was a risk factor and we found it by looking at the patients who ended up in the intensive care units. And what we were noting was that they were younger than advertised from what we have learned coming out of China and in Europe. We were expecting older patients and we were seeing younger patients."
"And inevitably the younger patients were more often than not quite obese. And it's true long-term obesity carries with it some risks like diabetes and hypertension but the younger people who were obese really didn't have these other pre-existing conditions they're much too young to have developed those yet but they were quite overweight and there are a number of reasons why obesity itself would become a risk factor for the virus."
I would assume that cultural habits are contributing to that as well in terms of a greater number of obesity cases in the United States compared to Asia?
Kass' response: "Internationally if you look at the levels of obesity and we define this by a body mass index of 30 or more. The U.S. is averaging around 40%, China is about 6%, many of the countries in Europe are somewhere in the 20% range. The whole planet is becoming increasingly obese but the United States is definitely one of the heavier countries. And so it is then not so surprising that when the virus landed on our shores populations with this as a significant co-factor started appearing more in our intensive care units and hospitals."
If you're an overweight adult, what precautions should you take during the pandemic?
Kass' response: "I think this is most important, it's not so much that people are suddenly going to able to lose lots of weight, this is very hard for anyone who is overweight I understand that, but I think you take more precautions. The reality that it is a risk and that it's a risk that we see skewing the population with more severe disease to younger groups because otherwise they don't have the other pre-existing conditions. That means wear a mask, it means social distance, don't become obsessed with it, this is not a fear factor issue, it's just sort of common sense. It is sort of a pre-existing condition and it does put you at risk, so you can mitigate those risks by just being extra precautions and following the guidelines that are out there in an effort to try to protect all of us from transmitting the virus to each other."
"I think it's also useful to reach out to your physicians, most people are in some kind of a practice plan and lots of doctors are doing telemedicine. And if you're home and you're developing what looks like one of the worst cases of flu in your life and you're having symptoms that are significant of a COVID-19 disease, you shouldn't take it that you're just going to do this by yourself if you're heavier, obese, or morbidly obese. Contact your doctor, make sure they know what's going on. There is an added risk, you don't want to end up in the hospital. You don't want to end up in an intensive care unit. So you become a little more sensitive to reaching out and getting medical advice and the doctors, in turn, should be I think more aware, and sort of being a little more surveillance for their patients who are heavier, who are really are obese because it's a risk."