A reality check for the young and “healthy”- what obese actually means with COVID-19

Posted on June 29, 2020

(Last Updated On: June 29, 2020)

Younger people are increasingly ending up in the hospital from coronavirus:

As young patients fill new virus wards, Houston Methodist is calling nurses to work extra shifts and ramping up its testing efforts

I’ve had to have seen like ten of these kinds of articles by now. Where it’s about young people getting seriously sick from COVID-19, if not dying, and invariably having the narrative “even though they were young and healthy.”

Yet you see pictures of the person, and clearly they’re overweight; likely obese.

This is from the above article. Look at the caption:

“Even if you are young and not at risk.” That is an abject failure of anybody involved in public health. That people that size could think they’re not at-risk for COVID-19 complications.

A serious issue facing the need for this country to lose weight is an increasingly amount of people don’t think they’re overweight or obese.

-> Something that has helped been propagated by the fitness industry!

First, 70% of this country is overweight or obese. So, by definition, odds are, the average person contemplating this topic is overweight or obese.

Second, and this is the crux of the issue, when so many around us are overweight or obese, it normalizes it, psychologicallyIf everyone around you is 50 lbs too heavy, then you, at 50 lbs too heavy too, are normal. So, the person who has 100 lbs to lose is actually the unhealthy, obese, one.

Nearly half of America’s overweight people don’t realize they’re overweight

It doesn’t work that way physiologically.

-> Young can feel subjective too, but it also isn’t. Once we’re past ~26 years old, we’re past our prime biologically. Just because 5 year olds withstand COVID really well doesn’t mean 35 year olds will too. Yeah, you’re not 70, but you ain’t young either.

This is what dictates whether you’re overweight or obese. This and only this:

BMI chart

“I feel good.”

Doesn’t matter.

“I’m only 30 years old.”

Doesn’t matter.

“I eat well.”

Doesn’t matter if the chart still says what it says.

“I’m 15 years old.”

About 20% of 2-19 year olds are obese.

You’re an average height, 5’4″ female, with a weight of 180 lbs?

You’re obese.

Average height male, 5’10”, at 200 lbs?


I know that sounds cold. The term obese has become almost like a racial or sexual epithet in this country, where we’ve made it about shaming people rather than their health situation. I get that aspect, but it is a medical term and we have study after study, health entity after health entity, media outlet after media outlet, saying as long as you’re young without any health complications, you’re almost guaranteed to be fine from this. All the while ignoring and forgetting that is a minority of the population.

All the while wondering why health entity after health entity doesn’t, you know, do some public health work, like scream “OH BY THE WAY THIS IS WHAT OBESE ACTUALLY MEANS SEE HERE YOU PROBABLY QUALIFY ->”

Instead we’re all wandering around in our heads going “I mean, like, I think I’m healthy, right? Yeah. I bet I am. I never really have to go to the doctor. Let’s go be social.”

  • 15-24 years old? COVID has killed 2.5x more than the flu
  • 25-34 years old: COVID has killed 5x more than the flu
  • 35-44 years old: COVID has killed 8x more than the flu

From the synapse and testicularly challenged CDC.

  • Mortality rate if you’re 35-44 years old and hospitalized with COVID-19? 5%*

It’s been said before but it’s worth reiterating- an issue like this does not discriminate because of one’s personal beliefs. It discriminates based on physiology.

If we want to have people willingly say

“I know I have the risk factors but I want to take the chance anyways,”

if they really, truly, feel

“I’m ok there might not be a hospital bed available for me or someone I care about -whether it’s for coronavirus or an elective procedure- and being the average adult in this country, I know myself and they are at higher risk of serious complications,”


“I don’t really care about the chances or ramifications of hospital workers dealing with an overwhelmed situation. It’s a job they signed up for.”

that’s a whole lot different than people genuinely thinking they’re fine, then ending up in a hospital saying “I don’t know how this happened.” Where they don’t know the risks they’re actually taking.

Some people claim to not care if the risk is 1% or 10%, they want to go out. (Some people don’t care how strong a near hurricane is. They’re staying in their house.) Others think the risk is 0.5%, but don’t realize for them it’s actually 5%. I don’t know what the proportion of doesn’t care about the risk vs doesn’t know the true risk is. Even at this stage, we’re ultimately very reliant on anecdotes and surveys. I do think it’s clear though there are people who are taking more risk than they realize.

Finally, we don’t want to foster a narrative we now have all these healthy people having problems. That can deter the unhealthy from getting healthier, and provide an unnecessary fear amongst the actually healthy, like children being allowed in a school before all the parents in the country run away from them due to insanity.

  • 1-14 years old: COVID has killed 4x less than the flu

-> Though the health status of the school’s staff is still a problem. We had time to say, do a public campaign to get teachers to lose weight, or to get their blood pressure in check, but we’ve squandered that.

More young people are ending up in the hospital, but it’s not because of some new event or change in the disease or accounting measure. It’s because younger adults in this country are not very healthy either.

*As for the “Yeah but the majority of people are still fine” argument: there is no pleasing these people. It’s the ever moving goal post argument. You can use it up until 51% of people are still ending up fine, and maintain righteousness the entire time. I applaud these people for their middle school debate team skills.

Meanwhile, if there was one airplane crash a day in America, one out of the 44,000 average daily flights, a 0.002% kill rate, about 100 people a day dying from aviation, the whole country would (willingly) stop flying.

I’m not even saying the flying argument is rational or should be extrapolated to the virus. I’m saying there is no intellectual consistency here. There is no logically deduced cutoff point.


“Economic productivity is important!”


“What’s the lost productivity of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, having to spend weeks in the hospital this year? And by many accounts, not being normal for at least a month afterwards? Is this a positive productivity trade off, or is it actually more harmful in the long run?”


(By the way, I sure as hell don’t know the answer either.)

In one respect, this is because we have no leadership helping us with this. We’ve passed the buck on contextualizing the seriousness of one of the most complex viruses in humanity’s history to a citizenry who scores worse on math than 37 other countries.

The most reliable data we have showing how the country is doing? It’s aggregated by journalists, on a voluntary basis.

So, here we are, everyone left to make scientific, mathematical decisions, based on their feelings. An inevitable path towards drowning in an ocean of self-serving rationalizations. A world where “the economy is crucial!” somehow ends up aligning with “masks aren’t important!”

Here’s to another six months of mental gymnastics.

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