COVID-19 Update: The most dangerous pre-existing condition there is

I’ve been shouting about the killer consequences of obesity for my entire career. But here’s a new one that the entire world should be paying attention to…

A body mass index (BMI) greater than 30 has recently emerged as one of the biggest risk factors behind COVID-19 hospitalizations.

And I’m happy to report that this time, I didn’t have to be the first one to say it…

Obesity is the second largest risk factor

Since this pandemic’s earliest beginnings, scientists have been analyzing COVID-19 statistics to gain a greater understanding of why it hits certain populations differently. So far, age has consistently been the most significant risk factor for more severe illness.

But the second biggest risk factor? Well, it turns out that honor goes to obesity.

That’s the conclusion of a recent NYU study—one of the largest of its kind to examine risk factors behind COVID-19 hospitalizations. And it found that obesity has a greater influence on the outcome of coronavirus infections than any other chronic condition—including heart or lung disease.1

Of course, age is still the strongest risk factor for hospitalization. But since the beginning, we’ve been hearing that people with pre-existing conditions should be more cautious.

And yet somehow, obesity was never mentioned—even though it appears to be the most dangerous “pre-existing condition” you can have.

Granted, this study is brand new, and still under peer review. But considering the fact that these researchers looked at over 4,000 patients, I’m inclined to take the results at face value.

And personally, I can’t see how it would come as a surprise to anyone. Obesity has been exposed as the root cause of countless illnesses. Yet, for some reason, we just don’t want to admit it… much less actually do something about it.

And that’s a real shame. Because if nothing else, this pandemic is just the latest example of people dying as a result of our inaction.

Don’t let your BMI determine your fate

There are a number of reasons why COVID-19 has been able to get the foothold it has so quickly.

Globally, the aging population is the highest it’s ever been across virtually all countries. We’re also dealing with unprecedented rates of heart and lung disease and diabetes. Not to mention an ever-growing population of immunocompromised patients.

All of these comorbidities heighten the risk of severe infection and death from COVID-19. But I firmly believe that if we weren’t such an overweight and unhealthy nation, the U.S. could have stemmed this pandemic a lot more easily.

At this point, obese and overweight Americans make up almost half the country. (That’s 150 million people or so!) So, unsurprisingly, as I write this, we now have about 1.4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 that we know about… and that number is rising by the day.

Let’s also keep in mind that U.S. obesity rates are much higher than some affected countries, including South Korea and China. So if our outcomes—both health-related and economic—end up being worse, it’s no wonder why.

We know obesity increases inflammation levels significantly. And we know that inflammation is a key factor in COVID-19. And more specifically, that hyperinflammatory conditions make infections harder to treat.

When you think about it, why wouldn’t a high BMI influence how a patient exposed to this novel virus fares?

Now, just imagine for a moment how different things could have been… how many hospitalizations avoided, and how many lives spared… if we had actually treated obesity like the crisis that it is, rather than handing Big Food, Big Soda, and Big Agribusiness  the keys to the country?

Sadly, we’ll never know. But with social distancing still keeping people confined to their homes and couches, the “Quarantine 15” is set to become a very real phenomenon. And it will only serve as fuel for this pandemic’s fire.

So please, do yourself and the entire healthcare community a favor. Stop giving yourself permission to stress eat in front of the television… and take this time to focus on losing weight and exercising more.

There’s plenty of opportunity to move your body, even while gyms remain closed. As always, aim for at least 20 minutes of moderate activity daily… even if that means walking up and down the stairs in your house or apartment complex.

And if your goal is to melt off the pounds and slash inflammation, you can’t do better than my A-List Diet.

So if you haven’t already, order yourself a copy today—at—and let’s all stay healthy together, in the age of coronavirus, and always.


Petrilli, Christopher & Jones, Simon & Yang, Jie & Rajagopalan, Harish & O’Donnell, Luke & Chernyak, Yelena & Tobin, Katie & Cerfolio, Robert & Francois, Fritz & Horwitz, Leora. (2020). Factors associated with hospitalization and critical illness among 4,103 patients with COVID-19 disease in New York City. 10.1101/2020.04.08.20057794.