Two years after the first reported case of COVID-19, researchers are closer to confirming some of their early suspicions.
A recent study says COVID-19 seems to attack fat tissue directly.
"What that means is that there's another reservoir or another place for the virus to hide and to infect and to kind of propagate and, you know, expand itself," pulmonary and critical care specialist Dr. Justin Fiala said.
That means obesity not only makes it harder for the body to fight COVID-19, but may also contribute to its severity leading to long-haul symptoms.
The findings — mostly from Stanford University School of Medicine researchers — still have to be peer reviewed. But the initial study provides good insight for doctors fighting a pandemic here in the U.S. where 73% of adults 20 and over are overweight or obese.
A 2021 study from the CDC shows obesity among the top underlying conditions associated with COVID deaths.
To complicate matters, the CDC also reports a pattern of "significant" weight gain during the pandemic among our nation's children.
"I think it's a wake up call for us to really rejuvenate metabolic health to really pour in resources into primary prevention, to change the school lunch program, to have healthy breakfasts, breakfast and lunch available for children," University of Arizona's Dr. Farshad Marvasti said.
The good news is, doctors are now armed with more information to help them treat patients.
"If we see somebody coming in with COVID, say, and we know that they do have a history of obesity, they're carrying a carrying around some extra fat storage, it would change — in my mind — how closely am I going to monitor that patient, you know, kind of knowing that there's an extra risk for them to progress on to something more serious."
And for doctors, that also means addressing both the individual and systemic issues that lead to obesity in the first place
"We have to destigmatize it, recognize that the obesity that they have is really because of, I think, a failure of our policies and social justice in terms of access to healthy foods," Marvasti said. "But even though that is the case, you can overcome the norm. You can get away from the path of least resistance is to stay obese, to stay sick. You can choose to do something differently. It's an uphill battle and an uphill climb, but it's one that we can do together."
Of course, those are long-term steps. In the meantime, doctors tell Newsy the new findings are a reminder to look out for your fellow man and yourself, wear your mask and get your vaccine and booster.