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Study Shows Obesity as Factor in Coronavirus Hospitalizations

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A recent study done by doctors at NYU Langone Health center has linked obesity to New York City coronavirus hospitalizations. Aside from age, obesity was proven to be the biggest factor in hospital stays. To learn more about obesity and coronavirus, we spoke to Dennis Smith, MD, who urges those living with obesity to take action now and regain control of their health to help prevent severe complications from illnesses like COVID-19. 

Obesity Linked to Coronavirus

An April 8 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 48.3% of all patients admitted to the hospitals in 99 counties across the United States were obese, and 59% of hospitalized patients aged 18 to 49 were obese. This is compared to 40% of 20 to 39-year-olds in the general population who have obesity. 

“Many of the comorbid conditions that are shown to have a higher mortality rate and risk of hospitalization are also things that plague the obese population, such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, sleep apnea, etc.,” says Dr. Smith. 

Many of these diseases impact the body’s ability to deal with stress from a heart and lung perspective, so anything — like coronavirus — that puts the heart and lung system in a stressful state will be more difficult for obese people to overcome. 

“Because of the state of their heart and lungs, obese people are starting at a deficit when it comes to getting infected with something like coronavirus,” said Dr. Smith.

Steps to Curing Obesity

When Dr. Smith begins seeing a patient who is ready to work towards weight loss, he first looks at their diet. “Diet is a lot more important than exercise because you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. What and how you eat is what we focus on first,” he explained. 

When we’re trying to lose weight, the body adjusts to higher body weight easier than lower body weight. So, diets don’t always help those struggling with obesity. Dr. Smith’s team addresses diet and weight loss and works with their patients to change their lifestyle, but further action is often needed. 

Medications, diet and exercise are all limited in what they can achieve for the severely obese population, Dr. Smith explained. And for that group, he recommends bariatric surgery, also known as weight-loss surgery, as the next option. 

Bariatric Surgery 

The most common bariatric operations are gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy (or gastric sleeve) and duodenal switch. These procedures can be performed laparoscopically through small incisions, reducing pain and minimizing recovery time after surgery. 

With gastric bypass surgery, a small pouch is created from the top portion of the stomach, which is then connected directly to the small intestine. Ingested food that goes into the esophagus and the pouch and then goes into the small intestine and bypasses the stomach. This operation not only reduces the amount of food that can be ingested but it also has a profound impact on how the body metabolizes foods and carbohydrates.

Dr. Smith shared that a sleeve gastrectomy procedure is the simplest, and this is where the stomach is divided into two compartments and the larger compartment is removed. The stomach pouch that remains is the shape and size of a small banana and is no longer capable of storing large portions of food. 

The Duodenal Switch is the most complex of the three options, but also the most effective weight-loss surgery. The Duodenal Switch is a procedure that promotes weight loss by limiting the amount of food that can be consumed. First, a sleeve gastrectomy is performed, and then the second part of the procedure reroutes food away from the upper part of the small intestine. How you break down food will also be altered to cut back on how many calories are absorbed. 

Who Can Get Weight-Loss Surgery?

Candidates for bariatric surgery need to have a body mass index (BMI) of over 40 kg/m2 (about 100 pounds overweight), or it can be as low as 35 if you also have a condition that’s associated with obesity, like hypertension, diabetes or sleep apnea. There is not a strict age maximum for surgery candidates, but Dr. Smith says they don’t do surgery on adolescents under 18. 

What’s the Recovery Time for Bariatric Surgery?

“All of our operations, including revision operations, are most often just one-night stays in the hospital,” Dr. Smith shared, adding, “Patients can walk right away and by the second day they can do pretty much everything on their own, except for strenuous activities.” 

Take Action to Take Control of Your Health

When it comes to your health, it’s empowering to know you have the option to take control. Change can be a good thing if it means a step towards your healthiest and happiest self, and if you’re living with obesity, it may be time to consider bariatric surgery as an option towards getting there. 

Click here to attend an information session to learn more and get started with the weight-loss process. 

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