Covid-19, Obesity and Mortality

We have long known that it’s possible to eat yourself to death. Monty Python even made fun of obesity when the massive Mr. Creosote ate until he exploded.

obese American eating, obesity, overweight, Covid-19, pandemicObesity has significant impacts on the human body, none of them good and many of them less visible than a restaurant detonation. Now we know, however, that an obese person who contracts Covid-19 is more likely to die than is a person of normal body weight.

This post is not about the causes of obesity, the difficulties of weight loss, or fad diets. II don’t intend it to fat-shame anyone or to imply that losing weight is easy. Instead, I want to talk about how the coronavirus will use your fat to kill you.

Covid-19 Mortality Factors

These four factors will make Covid-19 mortality more likely:

  • Age: The risk of developing dangerous symptoms increases with age. Those who are age 85 and older have the highest risk of serious symptoms. In the U.S., about 80% of deaths from the disease have been in people age 65 and older.
  • Race: Black and Asian people are 1.62 to 1.88 times more likely to die from COVID-19, compared to white people. That’s after considering medical conditions due to pre-existing clinical risk factors and deprivation,
  • Gender:  Men are more likely to suffer worse outcomes from the disease, and are as much as 2.4 times more likely to die from it.
  • Underlying medical conditions: These include people with diabetes, morbid obesity with a BMI of over 40, severe asthma, respiratory problems, chronic heart, liver, autoimmune, and neurological diseases. Any condition that affects the respiratory of immune systems is particularly serious.

The Impact of Obesity on Covid-19

While you can’t change your age, race, or gender, and you may struggle with a compromised immune system, you can do something about your weight. Along with wearing a mask, social distancing, washing your hands, and avoiding crowds, you can lose weight. Should you catch Covid-19, the symptoms will be less severe and your risk of dying will decrease if you are normal weight.

To gain an understanding of just how obesity affects Covid-19, read this article in Science magazine on “Why COVID-19 is more deadly in people with obesity—even if they’re young.” To learn more about “Obesity in America,” here’s an informative article.

Fat is the New Normal

The problem is, of course, that a lot of Americans are overweight, ranging from more than plump to morbidly obese. Once, overweight was a cultural taboo. In the sixties, President John F. Kennedy started at fitness campaign to get young Americans into good shape.

Obesity in US, 1070 - 2020, overweight, morbidityBack in the day, overweight people heard the kinds of jokes aimed at anyone society defined as “other” because they were different from a population made gaunt by the Great Depression.

Now, fat has become normal and critics aim their barbs at those accused of “fat shaming.” The goal seems to be normalizing being overweight. God forbid that you should comment on a person’s weight: the wrath of political correctness will fall on you.

Fat Shaming

Comedian Bill Maher, no fan of political correctness, delivered a monologue last year on how “Fat Shaming Needs to Make a Comeback.” In his monologue, he said:

“Some amount of shame is good. We shamed people out of smoking and into wearing seat belts. We shamed them out of littering and most of them out of racism. Shame is the first step in reform.”

The Obesity Action Coalition criticized him soundly for these comments, of course. Fellow comedian James Corden, who shaves at least two chins in the morning, issued a stern, if funny, rebuttal. But Bill Maher was right about fat being bad for you—and that was months ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic. Anyone who listened to him in September of 2019 and lost weight would have been months ahead of the coronavirus.

An Equal-Opportunity Killer

Covid-19 has come to warn us of the dangers inherent in normalizing fat and the lifestyle that supports it. The novel coronavirus doesn’t care about political correctness, fat shaming, trigger warnings, political correctness, cancel culture, or any other trend.

It’s an equal-opportunity killer that takes advantage of any weakness it can find in the human body. Obesity gives the disease, pardon the pun, a big opportunity. Given the prevalence of overweight people in this country, how bad is the problem? According to Healthline:

  • More than 40% of U.S. adults are obese.
  • Obesity affects one in six American children.
  • All 50 states have obesity rates over 20 percent.
  • The South has the highest obesity rates, Colorado the lowest.
  • Obesity is linked to more than 60 chronic diseases.
  • Overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults.
  • Your waist size increases your risk of diabetes.
  • Obesity causes more death than being underweight.
  • Obesity is expensive.
  • Your ethnicity can affect your likelihood of obesity.
  • Obesity is most common in middle age.
  • Americans eat 23 percent more calories than we did in 1970.
  • Obese individuals miss more work.

Obesity killed Americans before Covid-19 showed its ugly face, but the coronavirus made things worse. Much worse. We all know the numbers; of course; we see them every day on the news. And when you look at pictures of the victims, their weight often stares back at you.

Losing Weight: It’s Not Easy

I’m not implying that losing weight is easy. Some people have chromosomal conditions or take medication that makes them overweight. Many people struggle with eating all their lives, as depicted quite honestly by the actress Chrissy Metz on the TV drama This Is Us. As James Corden says in his rebuttal to Bill Maher, “You don’t have to tell us we’re fat. We know that.”

Obese population, Americans, besity in the US, Obesity by state, And it’s easy to be judgmental. Unlike James Corden, I don’t keep ice cream in the freezer; that’s a special treat. Ditto potato chips. I don’t eat much fast food or fried food. or pasta or bread. I don’t drink soda at all, especially diet soda, which is worse. I do an hour or more of water aerobics five to six days a week. Also, I live in a state with a relatively low obesity rate. Check out this map to see your state’s obesity rate.

If you look at the chart below that shows the increase in obesity in the U.S. over time, you can almost predict why the upswings took place.

Aspartame and Fast Food

The period of the fastest rise, from 1976 to 2000 saw aspartame approved for use in soda (1983) and then the food supply as a “general purpose sweetener” (1996). That period also saw the growth of the fast-food industry, which pumped gazillion cheap calories into the food supply, along with gallons of Omega-3 fats.

Prevalence of Obesity in US Adults, growth in obesity over time

You will notice that the data stop in 2010, which makes the chart 10 years old.
Finding more up-to-date data takes perseverance.

Now check out this map, which shows confirmed cases of Covid-19 by state. (Updated September 14) You can see the problem. Massachusetts does not look as good in this map, but that’s because of a corporate conference in February that served as a super-spreader event before we knew what hit us.

Confirmed cases of Covid-19 by State in the US

When you overlay states with high obesity and high rates of Covid-19, the next step is a map that shows mortality. Unfortunately, it’s too early to calculate what those numbers will be. I don’t expect it to be a pretty picture.

Look in the Mirror

I know that many people think Covid-19 is a hoax, that it’s no worse than the “regular flu.” Many people think wearing a mask infringes on their rights and that it’s stupid to avoid crowds. But if you are concerned about the pandemic, do yourself a favor: take a good look in the mirror and ask if your weight would have an impact on your survival if you contracted Covid-19. If the answer is yes, or even maybe, then eat healthy, eat less, and get more exercise. Even if (I hope) Covid-19 never comes near you, these steps will help you live longer.

If you don’t believe me, here’s Bill Maher on the Quarantine 15 and why doctors should be urging their patients to lose weight to protect themselves against Covid-19. If only they would.

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About Aline Kaplan

Aline Kaplan is a published author, a blogger, and a tour guide in Boston. She formerly had a career as a high-tech marketing and communications director. Aline writes and edits The Next Phase Blog, a social commentary blog that appears multiple times a week at She has published over 1,000 posts on a variety of subjects, from Boston history to science fiction movies, astronomical events to art museums. Under the name Aline Boucher Kaplan, she has had two science fiction novels (Khyren and World Spirits) published by Baen Books. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies published in the United States, Ireland, and Australia. Aline’s articles have also appeared on the Atlas Obscura website. She has been an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America since 1988 and is a long-term member of the Spacecrafts science/fantasy writers’ group. As a tour guide, Aline leads architectural and historical walking tours of the city for Boston By Foot, ghost tours for Haunted Boston and historical bus tours of the city. She lectures on Boston history and has appeared in the Boston Globe, as well as on TV for Chronicle, an award-winning television program that broadcasts stories of New England. As a lecturer, Aline has spoken at Brandeis and Tufts universities for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. She has also addressed as service organizations and local meetings. She is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston and lives in Hudson, MA.

1 thought on “Covid-19, Obesity and Mortality

  1. Part of that change came from the “guidelines” developed by the US government…
    [How the Government Made You Fat / 5:55]

    Of course it’s not just diet, it’s the increasingly precise measurements of food “sweet spots” wherein the processed food manufacturers target flavor mixes to increase consumption. (Now let me be clear: they’re in the business of selling food – I understand this.)

    Factor in our increasingly sedentary lifestyle (guilty!).

    I’m dedicated to losing weight – 20 pounds down so far, another 20-25 to go. A couple of good references:

    Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It

    Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health

    The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet

    Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers

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