As if we didn’t have enough to be anxious about, there are reports that body fat is a risk factor for the corona virus. And of course the diet industry has seized on this despite the fact that there’s never been a worse time to focus on weight loss. Here’s why you can, and should, drop concern about your weight from your worry list:
As of now it’s unclear if body size is an independent risk variable
It isn’t unusual that there are many people in larger bodies needing hospital care for corona as larger bodies are well represented in society. Larger bodies are also well represented in other risk categories such as being older, or for heart disease or diabetes.
Much of what is being reported uses BMI as a measure of body fat. In general BMI is a flawed tool for measuring obesity. Additionally there’s a lot of confusion about what constitutes a potentially higher risk amount of body fat relative to corona virus.
BMI 40 and above is sometimes singled out. However, when you look into the details you can find that there’s no consistency. For instance, one study reported in the media found an average BMI of only 25.5 – hardly high – among those with severe symptoms vs. an average BMI of 22 in those with lessor symptoms. BMI up to 25 is “normal” weight, and many experts consider that cut off to be arbitrary and too low.
There are other flaws in the emerging research as well. We don’t yet have a good picture of many of the risk factors, including whether or not weight is one.
There’s nothing healthy that you can do about it anyway.
Risk factors are just that – risk factors. There is a focus is on weight because it’s assumed to be one of the few risk factors that you can change. But there is no evidence that long term weight loss is achievable for most, nor is there evidence that short term weight loss results in either better health or greater protection from the corona virus.
Men die of corona at a much higher rate than women but no one is suggesting that men should pursue gender change in order to lower their risk. Nor is anyone suggesting that older people become younger somehow.
We know that diets don’t work and that weight cycling has its own health risks. Additionally getting adequate nutrition is more important to health than trying to lose weight, and it’s difficult to get the nutrients you need when you’re restricting food.
Worrying only causes more stress and that’s the worst thing for your health
There are many factors that combine to create health and what you weigh is only one of the possible contributors. Excess stress is a proven factor that can have a huge effect on your health (and weight). And remember there’s mental, social, and spiritual aspects of wellbeing as well. Excess focus on body weight is a leading cause of eating disorders and other mental health concerns. Sacrificing your mental health in pursuit of an unattainable body size is never a healthy tradeoff.
This is a totally new virus and there is much still to learn. For instance, due to the respiratory effects of the virus the immediate conclusion was that smokers were at high risk. Now it seems that nicotine in cigarettes might be protective against the virus. This doesn’t mean that smoking is healthy of course, just that being a smoker might not doom you to a serious case of corona virus.
It was first thought that young children didn’t get severe symptoms but now there is fear of a potential life threatening complication of inflammation to date only seen in this age group. We don’t know enough yet about transmission, risk, long term effects, or protective factors.
The bottom line is that you can’t tell the state of a person’s health by the size of their body, nor can you tell their risk for serious illness from corona. Some people in larger bodies are perfectly healthy and some people in smaller bodies have serious health concerns. Some people with no risk factors have died and others who were old or sick, or both, have recovered.
For all of these reasons, you can drop weight from your worries.