Covid-19 and obesity: a risky relationship that must be prevented

Obesity is a risk factor for more and greater complications in case of covid-19 infection, so it is important to reduce excess weight. To achieve this goal, nutritionist Inês Panão highlights the need for specialized support and shares some tips for effective and healthy weight loss.

Obesity and Covid-19

The New Year is usually one of the times chosen by everyone to set goals for themselves to achieve, and among the usual resolutions, weight loss is one of the most popular. And the truth is that in 2021, achieving this goal could make even more of a difference in some people’s lives, given the increasingly well-known relationship between overweight and covid-19. Indeed, several studies conducted since the beginning of the pandemic show that obesity is a risk factor for the development of severe complications in case of SARS-CoV-2 infection. One of the studies that led to this conclusion was published in the journal Obesity Reviews. According to this study, obesity increases the risk of death from covidia by 48%, as does the risk of hospitalization by 113% and the need for intensive care by 74% in these patients. As a result of the research, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. public health institute, now considers obesity as one of the health problems that can worsen covid-19.
But the negative impact of being overweight, as far as SARS-CoV-2 infection is concerned, does not end there. According to nutritionist Inês Panão, from the Safegene Clinic, in Oeiras, “obesity is a disease associated with an increase in other health complications, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, which increase the risk of contracting covid-19”. For all these reasons, the relevance of considering weight loss as a way to reduce the impact of a possible SARS-CoV-2 infection is obvious.

Containment and overweight

The need to lose weight may have been reinforced by the long period of confinement experienced, followed by the many restrictions on freedom of movement that were established to contain the pandemic. This is confirmed by Inês Panão, according to whom “during the confinement, most people became more sedentary, which in itself contributes to weight gain”.
Another situation that also became very exposed during the confinement is the increased consumption of processed foods. Inês Panão confirms that “in general, people’s diet during confinement was worse”, which was proven by the conclusions of a study carried out by the Directorate General of Health with the aim of analyzing the eating habits of the Portuguese during this period. In fact, it was revealed that almost half of the surveyed population (45.1%) said that they had changed their eating habits during this period, and 41.8% felt that they had changed for the worse.
The nutritionist points out that “weight gain is an immediate consequence” of this context. “If the lifestyle is not changed, improving eating habits and fighting sedentary lifestyle, in the long term, complications can appear, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dyslipidemia, that is, all the diseases associated with a lifestyle less favorable to health, “she says. But there are also exceptions to the rule, having also observed a reverse movement among the people she consults, that is, individuals who “by becoming aware of the situation, have begun to pay more attention, and even practice physical exercises at home.

Obesity or excess weight?

Being overweight is not always synonymous with being obese. It is therefore important to clarify what we are talking about when these terms are used. According to the World Health Organization, overweight is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or more. Obesity, on the other hand, is diagnosed when this value is equal or superior to 30. BMI is the result of the relationship between the weight and height of each individual.

Mental health and obesity

At a time when there is so much talk about the consequences of this atypical moment on the mental health of populations, the established relationship between mental health and diet should not be overlooked. According to Inês Panão, these two dimensions “are very closely related, and there can be both weight gain and weight loss”. “When the individual is not in the best state of mental health, he or she can “compensate” for his or her disturbances with food”, she explains, adding that this can cause “a drastic reduction in appetite, reducing food intake, but also an increase in food intake, or even compulsion”.
In addition, “anxiety can also interfere with the functioning of the intestine, causing nausea and vomiting,” says the nutritionist, stressing that “all these reactions are individual and can be multifactorial, that is, it is not only the fact of being confined that can cause changes in mental health and eating behavior, but everything associated with it, namely isolation, lack of communication and vitamin D deficiency.

Is this a good time to lose weight?

Given that obesity is a risk factor for complications in the event of a potential SARS-CoV-2 infection, one might assume that it is wise to begin a weight loss program. But is this the right time? According to the health professional, “the right time to start the weight loss process is individual. The person must be motivated to do so, because even if the goal is not to diet, focus and motivation are necessary.” Thus, “for some, it may be the right time because, for example, they have less social life, but for others, the sadness and isolation associated with confinement can disrupt the mental health status and therefore they do not feel ready to take this step,” he justifies.
Above all, “it is necessary that the person is motivated”, underlines the specialist, otherwise “the results do not appear”. On the other hand, she recalls that “the accompaniment by specialized health professionals is essential, not only to obtain results, but also not to endanger the health of the user”. It is therefore relevant to keep in mind that “the promotion of health is the primary objective”, which is why “it will be important to have recent examinations, so that the professional can advise in the best way”.

The importance of seeking professional help

Among the different professionals qualified to support this objective, Inês Panão explains that “the nutritionist is the health professional with knowledge in the field of nutrition and food and, therefore, is the one who not only stipulates the dietary plan of the user, but also accompanies, helps and educates him towards a healthy diet”. In this sense, he emphasizes that “it is recommended to all those who wish to lose weight, to seek a dietician, regardless of whether they have already done so in the past or not”. In fact, “the nutritionist, by continuously updating his knowledge, will be the one who can guide the user through the most recent scientific literature”. On the other hand, because this professional “adapts the whole diet to the individual according to his health, his food history, his personal tastes and habits”. Finally, the nutritionist also draws attention to the fact that there is currently “a lot of misinformation”, so that “not everything that is online or said by a famous person, for example, is correct or suitable for each person”.

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Ten tips for those who want to lose weight

Nutritionist Inês Panão shares 10 tips to help those who want to achieve their goal of losing weight :

  1. Search for a nutritionist. Follow-up by a specialized professional is the first step.
  2. Adjusting expectations to reality and not expect immediate results.
  3. Keep the optimism and do not think from the start that you are going to deprive yourself of food or make a huge effort, because in this way you will immediately start to fail ;
  4. Motivation is fundamental.
  5. Keeping the focus throughout the processtrying not to get discouraged easily.
  6. Cultivar open-mindedness and avoid refusing a food because you have never tried it.
  7. Food planning. Preparation is a very important factor.
  8. Sleep well is fundamental to achieving the goal of losing weight.
  9. Being active means Reduce sedentary lifestyles, spend less time sitting.
  10. Think long-term about a balanced diet integrated into a a healthy lifestyle.

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