When Should I Worry About...

One (Potentially Uncomfortable) Question Every Person Needs to Ask During COVID-19

July 23, 2020 - Katie McCallum

It's almost never comfortable to think about your weight, whether you're struggling with it or not. Right now, however, we all need to ask a potentially uncomfortable question — and it relates to our weight.

Obesity is the number one risk factor for developing a severe case of COVID-19 in people under the age of 55. This means that being overweight could increase your likelihood of being hospitalized, or even potentially placed in the ICU, as a result of this illness. This also means you need to know if you're considered obese so you can take the extra precautions needed to ensure your safety during this pandemic.

So, right now, it's time to ask yourself: Does my weight mean I am considered obese?

Before we get started, know that if you are considered obese, you're not alone. According to the CDC, more than one in three U.S. adults struggle with obesity, making obesity incredibly common — potentially way more common than you may think.

When being overweight becomes being obese

Obesity develops as a person accumulates more and more body fat, to the extent that body fat increases to an amount that's harmful to a person's health.

Two helpful estimates of body fat can be used to determine whether or not your weight is putting your health at risk:

  • Your body mass index, or BMI
  • Your waist circumference


Body mass index estimates your body fat by comparing your weight to your height. In general, the higher your BMI, the more body fat you have. Start by calculating your BMI.

  • A BMI of 30 or higher means you are considered obese.
  • A BMI between 25 and 29.9 means you are overweight.
  • A BMI below 25 means you are a healthy weight


However, BMI isn't a perfect body fat measurement tool. There are limitations to the usefulness of BMI, particularly for those who are pregnant, older or athletes.

While BMI doesn't directly measure your body fatness and cannot be used as a diagnostic tool for your health, it's a quick and inexpensive screening tool that strongly correlates with body fatness.

Another way to check body fatness, albeit in a specific area, is to measure your waistline, just above your hip bones. You may be at risk for health conditions associated with being overweight if your waistline is:

  • Greater than 40 inches if you're a man
  • Greater than 35 inches if you're a woman


However, similar to BMI, waistline measurements are not a diagnostic tool for your health.

What being obese means for you during COVID-19

Anyone can get infected with the new coronavirus, but some people are at higher risk of developing a more serious case of COVID-19 — including individuals who are very overweight.

To ensure you're protecting your health, here are three things to know about obesity and COVID-19:

  1. Your weight alone can increase your risk. Even if you feel healthy and have no chronic health conditions, having a BMI of 30 or higher increases the risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19 by 27%. In addition, having a BMI of 40 or higher doubles your risk.

  2. The sicker you get, the longer it will take to recover. There's still a lot to learn about the long-term effects of COVID-19, but we do know that, aside from the immediate risk to your life, a severe illness can be much harder to recover from.

  3. Protect your health by taking extra precautions. Everyone should be practicing social distancing, wearing a mask and regularly washing your hands, but those who are obese should be even more cautious and limiting risk during this pandemic. In addition, make sure you're taking steps to support your immune system and managing any chronic health conditions you may have.


Obesity also impacts your health long-term

Pandemic aside, being even mildly obese can increase a person's risk of several chronic health conditions, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Some cancers


While having a higher risk of a severe COVID-19 illness may be your immediate reason for losing weight, know that achieving and maintaining a healthy weight will also improve your long-term health.

Given that this virus is going to be with us for quite some time, don't let the pandemic delay you from starting or recommitting to your weight-loss journey.

Being at home more often is a great way to take control of the healthfulness of the food you're eating, as well as the portion size. And, keep in mind, incorporating exercise into your daily routine doesn't have to require a gym or fitness studio membership. Even just a 15-minute walk is a great way to get active while still practicing social distancing. You can also try workouts that you can do at home.

Next Steps:


Concerned you may have COVID-19?

  • If you're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you can speak to a Virtual Urgent Care provider 24/7. The provider will be able to help you determine if testing is needed and advise you on what to do next.
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Categories: When Should I Worry About...