NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – Doctors are reporting that a high number of COVID-19 patients who develop complications are overweight or obese.  That’s worrisome because adults who are, make up about a third of our population in the U.S.

There are a number of reasons why people who carry excess weight are more at risk for COVID-19 and severe complications.

Dr. John Morton who heads up Bariatric Surgery with Yale Medicine explains, “There’s something called hypoventilation syndrome and that is when you have extra tissue around your chest.  It’s harder to take deep breaths.”

Obesity also increases the risk for health issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure. 

“Patients who carry extra weight sometimes don’t have an immune system that’s working as well as it could be,” he says. 

And perhaps the most concerning in this pandemic. 

“The virus itself apparently uses a door to get inside of our lungs,” says Dr. Morton. “And that door is called the ACE-2 receptor.  And believe it or not, that is made in fat cells, adipocytes.”

The Centers for Diseases Control has revealed that obesity is a high risk factor for COVID.

African Americans in Southern states are in the cross-hairs like in New Orleans. 65 percent of the population — is at a high rate of infection compared to other areas of Louisiana.

That demographic has a higher rate of obesity and related underlying serious health issues than other groups. 

Dr. Morton says, “The mortality rates by last report in New Orleans were seven times higher than what they were seeing in New York.  It has a lot to do with the population, it’s considerably more obese, has a lot more medical problems.”   

Dr. Morton points out other studies show that COVID does not discriminate but being obese raises the possibility of contracting it.   

“The data that we have that comes out of New Orleans, that comes out of Italy, that comes out of China, the estimate is anywhere from three to seven times higher,” says Dr. Morton.

Managing treatment for those patients he says is not easy.

“The ability to place a breathing tube can be a challenge.  And we always advocate the most experienced person place that breathing tube.”   

Dr. Morton says those most experienced are at accredited Bariatric surgery centers.

With no vaccine and effective therapies for COVID-19, Dr. Morton suggests that now could be a good time for many of us to reflect on lifestyle changes to improve our health and ability to fight off serious illnesses.