COVID pushes more people toward bariatric surgery

Published: Nov. 25, 2020 at 5:30 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - As many families change Thanksgiving traditions this year by staying home or limiting gatherings, doctors say it’s a good opportunity to try new, healthier dishes, too.

While it’s always good to eat healthier, COVID might be a motivating factor to make lifestyle changes.

”I’m definitely seeing this side of people that are really feeling motivated to get healthier and to lose the weight and to eat healthier and exercise,” says Laura Gintner, a physician assistant specializing in bariatrics at Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay. “And when it comes to fighting off this illness (COVID), that’s really what’s needed to help our immune system.”

Gintner says 2020 has turned into a busier year than expected in her clinic as more people are seeking bariatric surgery or are simply more determined to lose weight.

She says a big factor is fear of not being able to fight off COVID-19, and early research of this still very new virus shows that’s a legitimate concern.

”People with obesity who contracted COVID were actually 113 percent more likely to be hospitalized, 74 percent more likely to be admitted to the ICU, and had a 48 percent higher mortality rate,” says Gintner, referring to a meta analysis of 75 different medical studies.

She says extra weight or obesity does not make you more at risk of contracting COVID because it’s a virus, but it does make it more likely that you will have more complications or have a more severe case.

She describes the reasons why.

”(One) is the metabolic changes that happen. Most of us think of adipose tissue or fat cells as just space occupying, but they’re actually biologically active. That causes a level of inflammation that affects the immune system in a in a negative way, and it impacts its ability to function and fight things off,” she explains.

Gintner says extra weight can also make it harder to be intubated or get mechanical ventilation.

”There’s a physical change when there’s weight on the lungs, especially weight that’s central or abdominal, that pushes up on the diaphragm, which affects the lungs ability to expand,” says Gintner.

With more than one-third of Wisconsinites considered obese by CDC standards, it’s concerning. CLICK HERE to view those CDC standards.

”(It’s) so important to prevent this illness and masking and washing hands and distancing, but I just think the thing we really should be focusing on as well is the importance of healthy diet and exercise and how that plays a role. And that goes for all of us,” she says.

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