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Can Losing Weight Reduce The Adverse Outcomes of COVID-19 Infection?

Understanding COVID-19

We thoroughly understand the risks associated with contracting SARS-CoV-2, which has been responsible for the global COVID-19 pandemic.

These include the potentially severe symptoms of an acute infection, which can be fatal and may require hospitalisation to manage symptoms. These include difficulty breathing, coughing, nausea, and joint and muscle pain among others, and can be as severe as septic shock.

However, many people experience mild symptoms. Scientists are still investigating how it is possible that some people become very ill with COVID-19 while others experience only mild or moderate symptoms. The phenomenon of ‘long-COVID’ where some people still struggle with severe symptoms over 3 months after developing COVID-19 further complicates the topic. The causes of long-COVID are not yet known but the risk of developing long-COVID increases with severe illness.

While they have not identified the exact reason why COVID-19 affects people in such different ways, scientists have identified several key risk factors.

Before we explore these risk factors, it is helpful to quickly refresh our information about how COVID-19 causes infection. It works by infecting the respiratory system. It uses spikes to attach itself to healthy cells, and uses the cell's receptors to bind itself to the cell - like a lock into a key. Next, it places its own genetic material inside the cell - this is called RNA. RNA is like a recipe to make more COVID-19 cells, and the cell acts as a factory, rapidly replicating and spreading the virus.

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How Does the Body Respond to COVID-19?

Our body engages our highly complex immune system, which includes white blood cells, to act as soldiers defending territory. They go out and destroy the infected cells, which try to avoid being captured.

This is where risk factors come into play. The ability of the immune system to mount an effective response and the ability of the virus to evade it both give us clues about how COVID-19 affects people differently.

Examples of risk factors cited by the Australian Government for developing severe COVID-19 infection are:

  • Age (Being aged 70 and over increases risk)
  • Level of vaccination
  • Pregnancy
  • Illnesses and conditions such as asthma or diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Severe obesity
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Blood pressure in an unhealthy range

In examining these risk factors, we can see where weight comes into play as a risk factor for developing severe COVID-19. In addition to obesity being cited as a risk factor, being overweight increases your chances of developing fatty liver disease, high blood pressure, and illnesses such as diabetes. All of these other factors also increase your risk of developing severe symptoms associated with COVID-19.

Does Obesity Affect the Severity of COVID-19?

Obesity is linked to a range of concerning issues such as systemic inflammation, and immune system dysfunction. There is also evidence for impaired respiratory function, as well as the potential for underlying pulmonary, cardiac or metabolic disorders that can increase the severity of COVID-19. Doctors and scientists have long shared concerns about the impacts of these risk factors on the severity of acute viral illness.

A recent study published in the JAMA Surgery Journal sought to answer whether or not substantial weight loss following weight loss surgery led to reduced severity and risk in COVID-19 infections among people with obesity.

The researchers studied over 11,000 people with COVID-19 and discovered that while both groups could still catch COVID-19 at a similar rate, there were significantly reduced risks for people who previously had weight loss surgery.

These are the statistics for people who had weight loss surgery:

  • The risk of hospitalisation was 49% lower
  • The risk of needing supplemental oxygen was 63% lower
  • There was a 60% lower risk of severe disease in the 12 months after contracting COVID-19 infection.

These are significant findings. This data confirms suspicions that the risks of severe COVID-19 can significantly be reduced with successful weight loss surgery outcomes. They demonstrate that your chances of severe infection or negative outcomes following a COVID-19 infection is lowered by more than half after undergoing weight loss surgery.

This is exciting news and it is certainly a big deal. Observational studies have also shown that weight loss leads to lower inflammation, a reduced risk of cardiovascular and kidney disease, alongside the other risk factors mentioned above.

If this has piqued your interest in the possibility of giving yourself some additional protection against this virus in the longer term, through weight loss, then please book a FREE no-obligation consultation with our Perioperative Nurse Surgical Assistant, Shirley Lockie.



All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion. Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks.



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