It is astonishing to see the findings of studies being carried in the time of the recent pandemic, and Dr. Maher El Chaar committed to doing his part in innovating the health industry despite the threat of COVID-19.
During COVID-19, many surgeons had to take a hiatus but not Dr. Maher El Chaar. “Looking at national and local data for how COVID-19 has affected our patients and our communities, we noticed that patients who have underlying health conditions such as diabetes, cardiac issues, and respiratory complications are at a higher risk of fatality when contracting the disease,” said Dr. Maher El Chaar.
Dr. Maher El Chaar is an esteemed robotic surgeon who serves as the Fellowship Director of Bariatric Surgery at St. Luke’s University Health Network. He wanted to continue to fight obesity and better understand its effects as it relates to COVID patients, so he worked with his team at the St. Luke’s Weight Management Center during the crisis to investigate a potential link between obesity and mortality rates.
“We have always been very active doing research and investigating new treatment modalities for our patients, but with COVID-19, we had to shift our focus and try to understand how this pandemic is affecting our bariatric patients,” Dr. El Chaar stated.
New York City has seen the largest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths throughout the United States, so it was an easy decision to start with their data in an effort to understand if there is a trend indicating who this disease is affecting most. Dr. El Chaar and his team looked at the five boroughs of New York and noticed that the two with the highest mortality rates were the Bronx (6%) and Brooklyn (5.4%). Both the Bronx and Brooklyn were also found to have the highest obesity rates, 32%, and 27%, respectively. The two ethnic groups with the highest obesity rates within those boroughs were Hispanics and African Americans. These groups were also found to have the highest age-adjusted mortality rates per 100,000 compared to the other ethnic groups (22.8% and 19.8%, respectively).
Much like other research has shown, this data shows that Hispanics and African Americans are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and obesity may play a role in the high incidence of mortality in those ethnic groups.
“Looking at this data, we immediately noticed that there might be a correlation between the two, but more research is needed to better understand the relationship,” said Dr. El Chaar. “This is not a cause-effect relationship, and we are not saying that obesity leads to death when contracting COVID-19, but patients battling obesity have an increased risk of death compared to other individuals without a weight issue.”
Dr. El Chaar and the St. Luke’s Weight Management Center will continue to look at regional numbers to scale the impact that obesity has had on mortality rates within the Network and our surrounding communities. “Our research will not cure COVID-19, but we hope it can serve as an opportunity to educate patients to maintain their health, now more than ever,” said Dr. El Chaar.
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