Serious Look

CDC: Possible COVID Risk with Overweight

This week, the CDC added overweight to its list of conditions that might bring increased risk for severe symptoms with COVID-19. By that, the agency means anyone with a BMI between 25 and 30. For a BMI of 30 and above, CDC does not mince words. Your risk is higher.

Think about it. This means that roughly three quarters of the U.S. population is living at a weight that may put them at higher risk for severe illness if they become infected with the coronavirus.

For an average woman, five feet and four inches tall, 146 pounds is a BMI of 25.1 – overweight. For a man of average height (five feet, nine inches) overweight starts at 170.

Understanding Risk

Let’s face it. People have a tough time evaluating risks. So how are we to process this new information? The data for overweight and COVID risk are strong, but not as compelling as they are for obesity. What does it really mean that overweight might increase the risk of severe illness with COVID? When you parse the words, they seem to say that there’s a risk of a risk.

Research tells us that people pay close attention to information about risk, but they have a tough time making use of it. In a 2017 study,  Olga Damman et al found that people examine the information on risk that they receive. They even remember it. Rather than actually using it, though, they rely on what they already know and believe.

So perhaps it should be unsurprising when people crowd into rallies, maskless, despite warnings that this is a very risky behavior. In thinking about risk, beliefs can prevail over facts.

The Bottom Line

Clearly, everyone takes a different approach to thinking about risk. Some would not be dare to ride a motorcycle under any circumstances. Some gleefully ride without a helmet. These patterns resist change. People are stubborn.

But the bottom line on this information about risk with overweight and COVID is really simple. We need to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously. It is not, under any circumstances, a “blessing from God.” This virus is not “disappearing.” Nor is it a reason to live in disabling fear.

Rather, we all need to act reasonably. Wear a mask. Pay attention to behaviors that will enhance your health, whether you’re carrying excess weight or not. Brook Belay, a medical officer at CDC explains it simply:

“The message is to strive to make healthy changes on a daily basis, through healthy food choices, choices about physical activity, and getting sufficient sleep.”

Keep calm and carry on. Wisely.

Click here, here, and here for more on this guidance from CDC.

Serious Look, photograph © Brian Evans / flickr

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October 11, 2020