When the COVID-19 pandemic first began, it was unknown that obesity would be a major risk factor for the illness. It wasn’t until recently that dozens of studies began reporting that many of the sickest COVID-19 patients have been people with obesity.

For people with obesity, the extra risk adds a psychological burden, says Patty Nece, vice chair of the Obesity Action Coalition. “My anxiety is just totally ramped up,” she says, adding that because of stress eating she’s recently regained 30 of the 100 pounds she lost before the pandemic. “You have the general anxiety of this pandemic … and then you layer on top of it: ‘You in particular, you could get really sick.’”

While excess weight remains a risk factor on its own, people with obesity are more likely to have other diseases that are independent risk factors for severe COVID-19, including heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes. The fear of being stigmatized by healthcare professionals also plays a key part in why people with obesity are less likely to seek medical attention, which can lead to an increased risk of severe illness.

People with obesity should be careful and try to avoid coming into contact with COVID-19. Everyone is encouraged to seek medical attention if they are experiencing any symptoms related to COVID-19.

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