Opinion | The deadly Covid-19 pandemic is eclipsing another one – obesity

People with obesity are also more likely to suffer from serious illnesses and die from Covid-19. In one study, 30 percent of coronavirus hospital stays were attributed to obesity. This could explain why certain countries were particularly hard hit by the pandemic: A report by the World Obesity Federation found that the risk of dying from Covid-19 is ten times higher in countries where the majority of the population is overweight.

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Given the overwhelming signs of obesity as a major health problem exacerbated by the pandemic, why not paying more attention to the economic and political factors that contribute to it? The answer is varied, and at least in part due to how society – and too often the medical profession – stigmatizes the condition.

Obesity is “the greatest story that is not talked about. The slow obesity pandemic has intertwined with the rapid pandemic of Covid-19, ”says Dariush Mozaffarian, cardiologist and dean of Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science. “But we only focus on the acute threat, not the chronic threat.”

While awareness of chronic diseases such as obesity has waned, its impact has not. William Dietz, a professor at George Washington University and co-chair of the Lancet Commission on Obesity, cited a study in which 42 percent of people said they had gained weight since the pandemic began. The average addition was 29 pounds; 10 percent said they gained more than 50 pounds.

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This is understandable at a time when Americans were experiencing great stress, less physical activity, and food insecurity, forcing many to forego healthy eating options. However, this has public health implications, according to Jason Block, an internist at Harvard Medical School. “Once you gain weight, it’s hard to lose. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we saw an increase in obesity rates in the next few years. “

Another reason we don’t talk about obesity is the fear that it might be perceived as a shameful person. Both Block and Dietz spoke of obesity as one of the most stigmatized conditions. Their approach is to talk about obesity for the disease that it is. Unfortunately, weight bias is so widespread in healthcare that obese patients say they avoid medical appointments because they fear disrespect and discrimination.

“If obesity is perceived as a result of behavior, it is only treated with behavioral changes and less likely with drugs or bariatric surgery,” says Dietz.

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Block matches. “The reason obesity is so stigmatized is because people view weight as a choice,” he said. “It’s especially unfair when we have a society that makes weight gain opportunities so ubiquitous.”

In fact, the experts pointed out that more than 70 percent of the American public is either overweight or obese, so this may not be an individual problem. It is obviously a societal problem that requires major changes at the political level.

“We live in a world in which junk food is advertised in enormous quantities in every respect,” explains Marion Nestle, consumer advocate and professor emeritus at New York University. Nestle and another expert I interviewed, pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig, are pushing to end government support for what they believe is a major contributor to obesity: ultra-processed foods and sugary sodas.

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Mozaffarian believes we should redefine health infrastructure so that food can be viewed as medicine and doctors can prescribe healthy products to patients. “We can also do a lot with federal policies to improve nutritional support programs, including making better use of SNAP and strengthening school lunches for healthier diets. There is not a single silver bullet, but a series of political solutions … and we need to recognize that systemic racism is built into our food system. “

It will be difficult to address longstanding structural problems. Some will disagree that this is the time to do this. But, as Block said, obesity is largely the reason that our children’s generation could have a lower life expectancy than ours. Mozaffarian calls for a “national collective awakening to address obesity and metabolic health”.

It will be a difficult awakening after a difficult year, but it would be tragic to get out of the Covid-19 disaster only to shorten years of life with another disease – one that is preventable and treatable.

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