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Mild COVID symptoms worse in people with overweight or obesity

Man in bed on couch with COVID

Overweight and obesity are already known to increase the risks of developing severe COVID symptoms, if infected, and now new research shows mild COVID symptoms are also likely to be worse for people in these groups.

Teens and adults who are overweight or obese are more likely to have harsher and longer-lasting symptoms if they have a mild case of COVID-19, according to the international research published in Influenza and Other Viruses.

The researchers found, of 470 SARS-CoV-2 positive cases, those classified with overweight or obesity (OWOB) suffered more symptoms, including more coughing and shortness of breath, than those without overweight or obesity.

These respiratory symptoms from COVID-19 were higher in the OWOB group, despite similar viral loads to those not in the group.

The research highlights the importance of protective measures, especially vaccination, when it comes to people with OWOB.

“These findings underscore the importance of vaccinating individuals with OWOB,” Dr Pannaraj says.

“The COVID-19 vaccines are highly efficacious and elicit consistent immune responses in people with and without obesity, thus ameliorating preventable complications in an at-risk population,” the study says.

Study limitations

Symptoms were self-reported so could be subject to recall bias. The study was an observational study so can only demonstrate a link, not cause and effect.

What can you do to reduce risk

The best way to protect yourself from COVID is to get vaccinated. Vaccination reduces the likelihood you’ll catch COVID but, if you do, it reduces the likelihood of severe symptoms and hospitalisation. Vaccination also decreases the rate of COVID transmission by reducing people getting it in the first place and making people likely to be infectious for a shorter period, if there is a breakthrough infection.

Eating a healthy diet, focussing on mostly plants (veggies, fruit, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains), healthy fats, moderate amounts of fish, chicken, eggs and dairy, and small amounts of red meats, is a good way to support your immune system even further.

Trying to reach or maintain a healthy weight range can add another layer of protection. These three habits will help start you on your way.

  1. Instead of restrictive dieting, try increasing the number of vegetables you eat at every meal and drinking water and tea instead of sugary drinks.
  2. Eat a protein-rich breakfast every day to keep you feeling full all morning. Great options are two eggs and two slices of wholegrain toast with tomatoes or avocado, or oats with yoghurt, nuts and berries and a skim milk flat white or latte.
  3. Move your body every day. Even if you just start with a 10-minute walk, the key is to do it daily. Find something you enjoy doing, so it’s easier to keep the habit up.

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