Covibesity: The dangerous combo of obesity and Covid-19


Movement restrictions have caused many to stockpile food and spend long hours sitting in front of the computer, either for working, studying or leisure, creating the conditions for ‘Covibesity’. — Filepic posed by models

Most of us would probably have come across the term “obesity”, but do we really know what it means?

Obesity is actually a complex disease that involves an excessive amount of body fat, also known as lipids.

Bear in mind that being obese is not just a cosmetic concern, it is a medical condition that elevates the risk of both developing and complicating other diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, certain forms of cancers and high blood pressure.

A person who is obese therefore not only faces possible issues with their appearance, but also a myriad of other medical complications that can affect them physically, emotionally and psychologically.

Another current buzz word is Covid-19.

This infectious disease has caused an ongoing global pandemic that has forced more than 2.6 billion people worldwide into various forms of lockdowns in a quest to flatten the curve of infection.

The nature of these lockdowns has had its impact on human health, one of which is weight gain due to a more sedentary lifestyle as a result of restricted movement.

This has lead to the coining of the term “Covibesity” by researchers.

A bad combination

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of June 21 (2021), the world has seen a total of 178,118,597 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and a staggering 3,864,180 related deaths.

Obesity has been found to be one of the medical conditions associated with a worst outcome for Covid-19.

Studies have found that obese Covid-19 patients face a higher risk for intensive care unit (ICU) admission and poorer outcomes.

About 85% of Covid-19 patients with obesity required mechanical ventilation and 62% of such patients died of the infectious disease.

In Shenzhen, China, overweight patients had an 86% higher risk of experiencing severe Covid-19, and obese patients, a 142% higher risk.

In the United Kingdom, a report stated that out of 10,465 patients critically ill with confirmed Covid-19, nearly three in four (73.7%) were overweight or obese.

Obesity is an inflammatory state that negatively affects immune functions and host defence mechanisms, resulting in high rates of infectious complications.

When it is combined with Covid-19, the two conditions synergise to create an even more negative effect on the patient’s body.

With Covid-19 primarily affecting lung function, the obese are more likely to suffer respiratory symptoms and progress to respiratory failure.

Many other systems in the body can also be affected by the combination of Covid-19 and obesity, which, in the worst-case scenario, can result in multiple organ failure and death.

In 2016, the WHO estimated that more than two billion adults were overweight and 650 million were obese worldwide.

In Malaysia, the number of obese people is increasing every year.

Among adults, the percentage of obese Malaysians has increased from 10.8% (2006) to 12.4% (2011), 15.6% (2016) and 17.6% (2018).

The implementation of the movement control order has seen frequent periods of mandated work-from-home (WFH) for office workers, as well as home-based teaching and learning (PdPR) classes for schoolchildren.

There are two major results from these policies:

  • Limitation of physical activity due to the enforced home stay, and
  • Stockpiling of food.

The lockdown lifestyle has been reported to lead to boredom, causing overeating, especially of “comfort foods” rich in sugar and fat.

Said psychologist Dr A.J. Marsden from Beacon College in Florida, United States: “People who work from home are at a greater risk of obesity and diabetes because there is a significant decrease in physical activity.”

Australian dieticians also noted that an increase of “grazing” on food among those who WFH is contributing to expanding waistlines.

Be healthy

The only way to solve the problem of “Covibesity” is through the adoption of a healthy lifestyle.

Considering that Covid-19 has no effective treatment available, healthy eating habits and regular exercise routines are crucial and beneficial, especially for vulnerable populations.

The WHO recommends at least 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical movement in a week.

However, the organisation also notes that some physical activity is better than none, and replacing sedentary time with even small amounts of light intensity physical activity will bring health benefits to the individual.

Eating a healthy diet is also crucial during this Covid-19 pandemic as our food intake influences our body’s ability to prevent, fight and recover from infections.

The WHO recommends eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, cutting down on salt, eating moderate amounts of fats, limiting sugar intake and staying hydrated.

Similar to how Covid-19 has become a global health crisis, “Covibesity” should also be tackled as a global health problem.

While Covid-19 strikes fast and can cause death in a short span of time, “Covibesity” is a long-term battle with potentially devastating consequences to both individuals and the nation’s healthcare system in the long run.

Remember, every individual is a soldier in the war against “Covibesity”.

So, think before you eat, eat healthily and nutritiously, and exercise regularly.

Your health is in your own hands.

Dr Lee Tze Yan is a lecturer in molecular medicine at the Perdana University School of Liberal Arts, Science and Technology. Dr Sathiya Maran is a lecturer in genetics at Monash University Malaysia. This article is courtesy of Perdana University, which is celebrating their 10th anniversary this year. For more information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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