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It’s been well-documented that obesity puts people at risk for many serious chronic diseases, including diabetes and high blood pressure. It can also increase the risk of severe illness from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A person with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher is defined as obese. As BMI increases, the risk of death from COVID-19 increases. Other possible complications related to obesity include:
Three times the risk of hospitalization due to a COVID-19 infection
Impaired immune function
Decreased lung capacity and reserve, which can make ventilation more difficult
Dr. Marsha Blount, a family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, stresses the importance of not taking this weight issue lightly.
“Obesity physically restricts breathing by putting pressure on the diaphragm, especially when lying down, such as in a hospital bed,” she says. “In addition, obesity increases the risk of blood clots. Unfortunately, we've seen that COVID-19 also increases clotting, leading to heart attacks and strokes that we do not usually see with the flu or other related illnesses.”
Helping doctors talk candidly and kindly about weight
Dr. Blount feels strongly that trust between patients and their doctor is essential to managing excess weight. She spearheaded a motivational interviewing program to help her Sharp Rees-Stealy colleagues have candid and productive conversations with their patients about weight issues.
“Motivational interviewing is a specific way to talk with — not at — patients to help them move from ambivalence to self-motivation and self-confidence,” she explains. “I became interested in this subject when I learned of its potential and was looking for a more effective way to help my patients with weight issues.”
Dr. Blount says the response has been extremely positive from both patients and colleagues. “My patients are thrilled to finally have their doctor give them usable, reliable information about weight loss,” says Dr. Blount. “Many have told me that no one has mentioned their weight before.”
Meanwhile, she says doctors are thrilled to embrace an approach that can be done in an efficient and effective manner. “As doctors, we got into medicine because we want to help our patients. After smoking, weight is the number one issue that is burdening our patients and our health care system.”
Dr. Blount reports that the program is enjoying much success among her patients.
“Twenty percent of my patients have lost significant weight to the point that I am decreasing or stopping their medications altogether on an almost daily basis,” she says. “This is a big deal. Patients are saving money and decreasing their risk of stroke, heart attack, cancer, joint replacement and more.”
Sharp partners with the American Heart Association to raise awareness about women’s heart health.