By Robin Clutters

DENVER (CBS4)– Every day we seem to be learning more about coronavirus, and one of the risk factors that has doctors concerned is how obesity can increase the likelihood of severe illness from COVID-19. Dr. Frank Chae from the Denver Center for Bariatric Surgery says that’s led to an increase in weight loss surgeries.

He says he’s seen a 20% increase in demand and requests for bariatric surgery when compared to June, July, and August of last year.

(credit: CBS)

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“It’s not just our practice,” says Chae. “Whether it’s in New York City or in Cleveland, as well as the various insurance companies across the country. United Healthcare and Cigna have seen an increased demand as much as 24% to 40% compared to last year.”

Chae says the best candidates for weight loss surgery are people who are 60 to 80 pounds overweight, or have a body mass index greater than 30. He says insurance companies typically cover the surgeries in people who have a BMI of 35 or greater.

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“I think a lot of people are fast tracking their decision process to sign up for surgery, in order for them to protect themselves from the adverse effects of COVID-19 complications, which by the way, rises with obesity.”

(credit: CBS)

For those who may not be eligible or do not want surgery, Chae recommends a high protein, low carb diet as well as plenty of exercise. He says a great place to start is with your doctor, who can refer you to a dietician. He says most candidates for weight loss surgery have tried these methods first but have been unsuccessful.

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“We knew obesity was bad for COVID, since it does adversely affect our lung function, and our immune response system to fight off infection,” says Chae. “But what’s also powerful is that there are studies coming out that show weight loss surgery lessens the risk of ICU admission after COVID infection as well as death from COVID-19.”

Robin Clutters