Doctors across the United Arab Emirates say overweight and obese people who have had COVID-19 can help reduce severe post-virus symptoms by losing weight.
Obesity - an established major risk factor in the development of severe infection or death from COVID-19 infection – also appears to significantly increase the risk of developing long-term complications from the disease, a syndrome often referred to as ‘long COVID,’ according to several studies.
In one, carried out by Cleveland Clinic’s Bariatric & Metabolic Institute, the study’s lead author and director of the institute, Ali Aminian said: “To our knowledge, this study suggests that patients with moderate to severe obesity are at a greater risk of developing long-term complications of COVID-19 beyond the acute phase.”
The findings have led to British scientists at Glasgow University launching a trial to investigate whether losing weight can ease symptoms of the poorly understood condition in overweight and obese people.
Researchers will recruit 200 Britons who have survived COVID-19 but are debilitated by lingering symptoms months later. Half will be put on strict 850 calorie soup and shake diets, and the rest will carry on with their normal meals and attend ‘long COVID’ clinics.
The groups’ symptoms, weight and quality of life are to be monitored for six months and compared, before the remaining patients are added to the weight loss scheme.
In the UAE, doctors believe losing weight can help reduce the risk of developing long-term complications from the disease.
“Long COVID-19 or ‘Post Covid Syndrome’ is a condition in which, after the infection, the symptoms of COVID-19 linger for weeks in mild or moderate form,” Dr Baiju Faizal, an internal medicine specialist at UAE’s Lifecare Hospital, told Al Arabiya English.
“Its symptoms include fatigue, chest pain, breathing difficulty, muscle pain, etc.”
“Long COVID-19 becomes more of a challenge for obese people as they already experience persistent fatigue and breathlessness upon mild exertion.
“Obese individuals, especially those with a Body Mass Index of more than 35, are at a higher risk of experiencing complications like blood clots during acute COVID-19.”
Obese individuals with a BMI of more than 35 must reduce their intake of carbohydrates and sugar as part of healthier lifestyle changes, the doctor said.
“To lose weight, an obese person must reduce the carbohydrate portion in their diet to 30 per cent.”
“They must consume high-fiber carbohydrates like oats, brown rice and whole wheat. Avoid refined carbohydrates as they promote more insulin release leading to weight gain. Additionally, one must consume sufficient good quality proteins like eggs, fish, chicken breast, pulses, etc.”
According to the World Health Organization, a BMI greater than or equal to 25 is overweight while a BMI greater than or equal to 30 is obesity.
Obesity: A ‘long COVD’ risk
Azeem Abdul Salam Mohamad, a specialist in internal medicine at Bareen International Hospital - MZB City, told Al Arabiya English that a recent study conducted in the UK showed that up to one in three people infected by COVID-19 reported persistent symptoms lasting at least 12 weeks.
“The symptoms were very severe in obese people,” he said. “Also, in another study conducted in the US, it was shown that patients with moderate to severe obesity are at greater risk of long COVID.
“Obviously, losing weight would be advantageous in reducing the severity of COVID-19 symptoms and preventing long-term complications post-COVID.”
“This is also another reason why everyone especially people who are obese should get vaccinated against COVID-19.”
Dr Sathish Kumar, a specialist in general surgery at NMC Royal Hospital, Sharjah, told Al Arabiya English that while losing weight does not prevent from getting COVID-19 “it is true that obese people have more severe symptoms when they are affected with the coronavirus.”
“Losing weight can be achieved with a healthy diet, regular exercise and strict adherence to a set plan of a dietary regimen and exercise schedule,” he added.
Studies show that millions are suffering from long COVID, which sparks debilitating symptoms including breathlessness, fatigue and ‘brain fog.’
Many sufferers are left fighting the condition for around 12 weeks, but some can still experience COVID-19 symptoms a year after fighting off the infection.
According a study, ‘The dietary impact of the COVID-19 impact, published in the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to significant changes in where people work, eat and socialize. Data found that in Britain by May 2020 (towards the end of the UK’s first national lockdown), total calories were, on average, 15 percent above normal levels, and they remained higher than normal for the rest of 2020.
All socioeconomic groups increased their calorie purchases, with the largest rises for the highest SES households and the smallest for retired ones.
The findings suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated changes in people’s lifestyles have exacerbated the challenges of improving population diet and reducing obesity levels.