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Obesity, lack of activity contributing to COVID severity

The World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and various doctors have raised the alarm about obesity’s magnifying effect on the severity of COVID-19. An outsized percentage of COVID deaths have occurred in countries with high rates of obesity, helping to explain why western European societies and the US are being affected by the disease more than other developed nations like Japan. Countries where 40% or less of the population have an unhealthy body mass index have one-tenth the fatality rate from COVID versus those where half of the adult population is categorized as obese. That has been found to be true even after adjusting for other factors like country wealth, which allows for more testing.

The findings are profound, given policies across America that reduced access to gyms and fitness centers, and shuttered many workplaces, at least temporarily. The American Psychological Association surveyed how people were coping with stress. Additional eating was one of the most common mechanisms, along with alcohol use, both contributing to a burgeoning waistline.

The Guardian newspaper interviewed an Arizona doctor on what the consequences have been. “Ninety-eight per cent of my day is, ‘You haven’t been exercising, you’ve gained weight, and your diabetes is no longer controlled. We need to help you with that,’” said Dr. Andrew Carroll, who is part of a multidisciplinary family medicine practice in Chandler, Arizona. “It’s very rare I’m reducing medications over the last year.”

Michigan Tech Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology professor Steve Elmer says new research could tie COVID severity to a sedentary lifestyle.

The preliminary scientific evidence suggests the CDC may need to add another bullet saying that regardless of your body weight, being inactive may be another risk factor. [Graduate student] Isaac [Wedig] and I are reviewing that literature right now. We’ve even collected some survey responses from our community members here to get more insight.

The fitness center inside Michigan Tech’s Student Development Complex remains closed to new members. Asked in February if there were plans to reopen to the general public, a representative said she hoped it would be soon. Elmer says that his at-home fitness program, UP and Moving, will continue after the pandemic because the area has many residents that are not served by recreational facilities.

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