A recent academic paper co-written by a Revelstoke researcher argues excess body fat increases an individual’s risk of dying from COVID-19.
Early data on COVID-19 from China suggests people most vulnerable to infection had pre-existing illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and chronic inflammation.
According to the article, The Perfect Storm: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic Meets Overfat Pandemic many of those conditions are caused by being overfat. The paper estimates up to 80 per cent of the population of the world is overfat, referring to it as a ‘hidden’ pandemic.
|Potential relationship between body fat status and rates of infection. (Figure from The Perfect Storm: Coronavirus (Covid-19) Pandemic Meets Overfat Pandemic)|
As opposed to obesity, which is determined using a body mass index (BMI) calculation to determine if someone is overweight, overfat is defined as having excess body fat.
Paul Laursen, who hails from Revelstoke, is one of the authors of the paper and adjunct professor of exercise physiology at Auckland University of Technology. He said excess body fat can harbour immune cells and restrict their availability to fight disease.
“Excess body fat can hinder the body’s metabolic state,” Laursen said. He continued people who are under fat are also at a higher risk of infection.
In a previous paper written by Laursen, it argued that BMI fails to include 50 per cent of people who still have dangerous amounts of fat, including those with the proverbial beer belly.
According to both papers, abdominal fat is of particular concern. One reason is that stomach fat grows deep inside your body, wraps around vital organs and can eventually lead to other health complications such as heart attack or stroke.
The BMI calculation can also be problematic for people with high muscle mass, as muscle weighs more than fat.
“Using BMI, many of the athletes I train would be considered obese,” said Laursen, who coaches professional athletes around the world, such as triathlete Kyle Buckingham in South Africa.
Laursen’s recent paper stated the collision of the overfat pandemic with the COVID-19 pandemic has created a “perfect storm” for putting more people at risk for COVID-19.
People with pre-existing conditions or who are older are at the highest risk. Stay home and protect the most vulnerable.
— BC Government News (@BCGovNews) April 8, 2020
Because of the threat the virus poses, he said public health orders and recommendations for physical distancing are necessary to fight the novel coronavirus.
According to an article in Nature Reviews Microbiology journal, if all the viruses on earth were laid side by side, they would stretch for 100 million light-years.
In mammals and birds alone, there are thought to be 1.7 million undiscovered types of viruses.
“An overfat body cannot mount as good a defence against an invader,” said Laursen. He added that a healthy immune system allows humans to safely swim through a virus prone environment every day.
As the country starts to reopen, Laursen said we are faced with the question of lives versus livelihood. People that are overfat and decide to go back to work are more at risk for future infection, he said.
Laursen’s recent paper suggests it’s easier to prevent viral infections through a healthy lifestyle than to treat them. A strong immune system can be a safeguard for future illnesses and/or pandemics.
Individuals can test for being overfat by measuring their waist. Laursen says a person’s waist measurements should be less than half of a person’s height for a healthy weight.