• by: Valter Longo Foundation Editorial Staff
  • June 2nd, 2020

More than four months have passed since the new Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 was identified in China on January 9th2020, as the cause of the respiratory disease known today as COVID-19.

Since the beginning of the epidemic there are almost 4 million cases worldwide, with over 270 thousand deaths. Unfortunately, our country has been among the most affected, with almost 200 thousand cases confirmed since the beginning of the epidemic and over 30 thousand people have died.

Although the trend of infections and deaths has been improving for a few weeks, according to the WHO, the risk is still moderate for the general population, while the risk is still high for the elderly and people with chronic diseases.

In this article (CORONAVIRUS DATA AT HAND), we have already talked about how the coexistence of other pathologies (hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, in addition to oncological diseases) significantly increases mortality for COVID-19. These are diseases often related to obesity, and it is therefore not surprising that the course of this new infection was typically more serious and difficult in patients with excess weight.


Obesity is a condition characterized by excessive accumulation of body fat, caused in most cases by an unhealthy lifestyle, and mainly by the combination of unregulated nutrition (too much food and/or bad quality food) and absence of physical activity.

Technically, we considerit obesity when the ratio between the weight and the height in meters squared, i.e. the Body Mass Index (IMC) also known as BMI (from the English Body Mass Index), exceeds the value of 30 kg/m2. For example, a person who weighs 95 kg and is 1.7 m tall will have a BMI of 32.8 kg/m2: 95 kg/1.7m2.

Obesity is a major public health problem, both for the large number of affected individuals (1 in 10 people in Italy) and for its complications: cardiovascular diseases (especially stroke and heart attack), hypertension, diabetes mellitus type II, metabolic syndrome, some types of tumors (including colorectal, kidney, breast, prostate), musculoskeletal diseases such as osteoarthritis.


According to several surveys, including those carried out in France and the USA, obese people who fall ill with COVID-19 need lung ventilation more often, that is, they fall ill more severely than normal weight people.

In the French survey, 90% of severely overweight people needed mechanical ventilation, and it was observed that the risk of hospitalization in intensive care increases with an increased BMI, a risk that in fact halves in patients with normal weight; in the New York study among ICU patients, over 40% were obese.

In fact, obese patients already start with breathing difficulties, given that the chest and abdominal fat compresses the lungs, reducing the ability to fill them with air. In general, obese patients also have a greater need for oxygen, since their body has a greater extension and requires more.

These patients therefore already start with a higher risk of contracting respiratory diseases, compared to normal weight patients. In fact, about 13% of obese subjects develop pathologies such as chronic bronchitis, asthma, emphysema or respiratory failure.


In addition to the initial respiratory difficulties, obese subjects often have chronic inflammation (even of a low degree) and imbalances in the immune system.

In fact, fat represents a reserve of immune cells, including macrophages, which eliminate pathogens (such as viruses and bacteria), and T lymphocytes, which signal the presence of the infectious agents to the rest of the body.

In patients who have an excess of fat mass, therefore, there is a surplus of these immunity cells, which leads to a more intense immune reaction when they fall ill, a large “cytokine storm” (pro-inflammatory proteins).

It has been observed that the immune reaction can harm the patient more than the virus itself, and not surprisingly many drugs currently being tested are immunosuppressants, or anti-inflammatories. Consequently, it is easy to guess why obese patients have often shown a worse course.


In light of all these considerations, people with obesity should pay even more attention and strictly follow the government’s prevention measures to protect themselves from SARS-CoV-2 infection. It may also be useful to consult the nutritional guidelines drawn up by the Valter Longo Onlus Foundation on hygiene rules and food suggestions, to support the immune system and eat consciously.

In fact, in addition to the suggestions related to the prevention of Coronavirus, it is essential to make lifestyle changes to reduce excess fat, gradually returning your weight to normal.

This can be achieved by increasing physical activity (based on your state of health) and improving nutrition.

Even if gyms and sports centers are currently closed, it is possible to go for walks or bike rides if you have the opportunity to reach places that are not very polluted and not too crowded. Otherwise, you can also do some breathing and relaxation exercises in your home.

As far as nutrition, the suggestions proposed in “The Longevity Diet” reported in the following link remain valid, not only to normalize weight, but also to reduce the risk of developing various chronic diseases (such as cardiovascular and diabetes) which, in addition to being associated with a shorter and lower quality life, also increase the risk of getting COVID-19.


  8. Vgontzas AN, Bixler EO, Papanicolaou DA, Chrousos GP. Chronic Systemic Inflammation in Overweight and Obese Adults. 2000;283(17):2235–2236. doi:10.1001/jama.283.17.2235
  9. Vgontzas AN, Bixler EO, Papanicolaou DA, Chrousos GP. Chronic Systemic Inflammation in Overweight and Obese Adults. 2000;283(17):2235–2236. doi:10.1001/jama.283.17.2235

By Fondazione Valter Longo Onlus editorial staff
Fondazione Valter Longo Onlus aims to make scientific dissemination by raising awareness among the scientific and non-scientific community of a healthy lifestyle and proper nutrition through the production of explanatory scientific articles, textual, infographics and multimedia content, and the dissemination of clinical activities scientific, informative and educational aspects of the Foundation and its team of professionals. Dietary pathways, scientific discoveries, clinical studies, treatments and technologies, national and international awareness events, prevention initiatives as well as Longevity recipes are just some of the topics addressed in articles and in-depth interviews published daily and written in collaboration with the Foundation’s specialists. Also active on social networks, Fondazione Valter Longo Onlus editorial staff also offers a monthly newsletter sent to all members, to stay up to date on the most interesting news related to the world of Health, Nutrition and Longevity.
Romina Inés Cervigni
Alessandra Fedato
Maria Liliana Ciraulo
Corinna Montana Lampo
Cristina Villa
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