Study shows Covid is deadlier to obese people

Johannesburg – Being obese is a chronic disease and very dangerous when you have Covid-19.

Almost 20% of South African patients suffering from obesity who contracted the virus succumbed to Covid-19 since the pandemic hit last year.

Dr Tobeka Boltina, the head of Clinical, Medical and Regulatory Affairs at Novo Nordisk, says nearly 70% of South African women and 31% of South African men are overweight or obese. But it’s not just exercise that fixes “fat” problems and protects you from the virus.


Boltina says common misperceptions are that obesity is a disease of overeating and due to people not exercising enough.

She explains that obesity is definned as an abnormal or excessive accumulation of fat that may impair health.

“Body mass index (BMI) provides the most convenient population- level measure of overweight and obesity currently available. Calculating your BMI is simple; BMI = weight/height (metres squared): your weight divided by your height (metres squared). A BMI between 25 and 29.9 shows that a person is overweight,” she says.

According to the World Obesity Federation (WOF), the rising prevalence of obesity worldwide makes it one of the most important public health problems facing the world.

The WOF further reiterates that obesity should be considered as a disease because it is a chronic, relapsing condition that is caused by a variety of factors including an abundance of food, a sedentary lifestyle and several environmental factors that interact with genetic susceptibility.

Boltina says in relation to Covid-19, data based on the US Centers for Disease Control, showed that the most prevalent comorbidity among patients under 65 years with Covid-19, was obesity.

“Among a group of 41 877 individuals admitted to hospital with laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 in South Africa, obesity was identified as a comorbidity in 19.7 % of the patients admitted,” she says.

Obesity often comes coupled with diabetes, hypertension, heart failure, heart attacks and chronic lung or renal disease.

When it comes to treatment for obese patients with Covid- 19, she says it is imperative that they try not to contract the virus at all and follow necessary precautions as outlined by the health authorities.

“Depending on the severity of symptoms caused by the Covid- 19 infection, treatment for each patient would be individualised by the healthcare practitioner who is assessing the patient,” she says.

She adds that there is a breakthrough treatment for people suffering from obesity with the new anti-obesity medication from Novo Nordisk.

“It is important to note that no medication can be considered as 100% effective. The new anti-obesity medication affects feelings of hunger and fullness. As obesity can be impacted by hormones, the medication focuses on targeting hormones to try and treat obesity. Tackling the hormonal causes of obesity is important in counteracting weight regain. The body has a set weight that it is genetically predisposed to, and when you begin losing weight your body’s natural survival instincts kick in to regain that weight.

“This weight regain occurs as there are changes to the hormonal signals within the body resulting in the hunger hormone (ghrelin) increasing, and a decrease in the hormones that tell the brain to stop eating or send a signal of satiety or fullness. This makes maintaining weight loss di¢ cult .

“The medication contains a hormone that enhances the secretion of insulin as well as increasing the feeling of fullness during and between meals. It does so by acting on the appetite centres of the brain and, also by slowing the emptying of the stomach. This appetite suppression and the slowing down of emptying the stomach are thought to be responsible for the weight loss effects,” says Boltina.

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