When the Rev. Robert Biekman was diagnosed with COVID-19 last month, he couldn’t help but think about what would have happened if he had still weighed more than 360 pounds — realizing how his condition four years ago would have hurt his ability to fight the virus and potentially cost him his life.
“If I was as big as I was, this thing would’ve probably taken me out,” said Biekman, 61, who after a 2017 surgery, change in diet and a commitment to run 5 miles every other day now keeps his weight around 190 pounds or less. He recovered from the virus and now tests negative.
Obesity is a killer in Black communities, contributing to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and all causes of death. It’s among the factors making heart disease the No. 1 cause of death among Black men in the U.S.
The pandemic exposed another deadly threat from obesity: a higher risk of complications or death from COVID-19.
After old age, underlying health conditions often spurred by being overweight or obese contribute the most to complications and death in COVID patients, U.S. health officials say. Obesity can triple the risk of being hospitalized with COVID and the risk of death rises with higher measures of body fat. The reasons range from poor lung function to suppressed immune systems from related health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Cook County Medical Examiner records list obesity as a contributing cause for 760 COVID deaths through January 10, or about 1 in 11 of the more than 8,500 deaths for that period.
The data also reveals a trend among younger people who have died. Those who are 40 or under account for only 2.5% of COVID deaths. However, almost 40% of the death records for that group indicate obesity was a contributing cause of death.