Updated: Mar 5, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic and obesity are two very prevalent, very different problems that the U.S. is currently facing.
Upon closer look, however, they are more related than they appear.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, some people are at an increased risk of becoming severely ill due to the COVID-19 virus. One of the leading medical conditions that can put individuals at this increased risk is obesity. Obesity puts more stress on all the body’s organs including the lungs, the most affected part of the body when COVID-19 has been contracted.
Obesity is defined as having a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 kilograms per square meter or higher. The CDC states that 42.4% of Americans were considered obese as of 2018.
According to a study done by State of Childhood Obesity, the Appalachian Mountain Region of the U.S. exhibited a higher density of obese citizens than any other region in the country.
“That means if you’re living in Appalachia, you’re more likely to die from obesity-related chronic conditions than if you live elsewhere,” said the article from State of Childhood Obesity.
A survey from the European Association for the Study of Obesity found that during the COVID-19 lockdown more than half of its volunteers found that they had unexpected weight gain.
Dr. Darshana T. Shah is a pathologist who also serves as the founding editor-in-chief of the Marshall Journal of Medicine, which is West Virginia’s first online, open access, peer-reviewed journal.
“Americans living in rural areas also tend to have higher rates of cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, and obesity, when compared with their urban counterparts,” said Shah. “The people in the United States who live in rural areas are mostly a higher risk population who are particularly vulnerable to the severe outcomes of COVID-19.”
This brings the tornado around full circle. Obesity causes you to be at increased risk for becoming extremely ill due to COVID-19. The COVID-19 quarantine has caused an up-tick in weight gain and Appalachia already had the most obese population density.
What does this mean for the area?
Most of the country has begun to open back up and loosen COVID-19 restrictions. The Federal Government has made no requirements and has left all decisions to be made by the governor of each individual state.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee left all decisions to be made at the city and county governing boards.
Most of the counties in the Tri-Cities area have implemented mandatory mask requirements when entering any business, besides Hawkins County, which failed to reissue a mask mandate after it expired at the end of September.
Obesity is combated by physical activities and exercise. This is usually achieved through attendance at a local gymnasium. Gyms in the area have mostly reopened. These gyms are following even looser COVID-19 restrictions and mandates.
Mayor of Kingsport Pat Shull released a statement allowing gym members to take their masks off upon entrance into gymnasiums in the area. Many other gyms in the area and the country are following suit.
While the policy allows for the population to exercise without the hassle of suffocating in a mask, it also increases the chances of contracting COVID-19.
According to studies done by the New York Times, the U.S. is approaching its third and possibly highest peak in COVID-19 cases to date as it surpasses the 8 million known infections mark. They have also found that the most affected area is the midwest, with the south not far behind.
The Appalachians have hit the dreaded double whammy: a high population density of obese citizens and a high influx of COVID-19 cases that has no intention of slowing down at the rate the country is lifting restrictions.
What should we do?
Experts recommend steering clear of closed spaces where social distancing, avoiding exposure and avoiding highly touched surfaces are not possible.
Exercise and physical activities can be done secluded or in socially distanced spaces outside. This includes activities like online group fitness classes, going for jogs or walks and many other activities.
Healthier dieting can also contribute to solving obesity and other problems associated with being overweight. Dieting consists of eating more balanced meals in smaller portions.
Ashlee Kizer is a fitness junkie. She also owns and operates a business she started from the ground up, SmAsh Meals.
SmAsh Meals is a meal prep service in the Tri-Cities area that focuses on helping people eat healthier on time constraints when fast food would seem like a more viable option. Each week they release a new menu of items for ordering that you can pick up at specific drop off locations, or they can be delivered straight to your home.
These meals are stored in your fridge and can be heated up in the microwave in just a few minutes making them a healthier and just as quick alternative to fast food.
Kizer started her fitness journey in 2008 and found that being healthy took a combination of eating well and exercising.
“I focused more on functional fitness and eventually started eating well,” said Kizer. “When I first started, I would eat like Reese’s cups for dinner and would just be starving.”
Kizer eventually began weekly meal prepping for herself and her husband, and by word of mouth “accidentally” started her business- which has grown exponentially throughout the years. In her new office, she even plans to start teaching meal prep classes in the COVID-19-free future.
Obesity is a growing problem in America, one that is exacerbated in Appalachia. As COVID-19 continues to spread across the U.S. and the region, more precautions need to be taken in order to contain both problems - an idea that sounds good on paper - paper blowing through the wind and on fire.