Poor health, including poor metabolic health, has been linked to an increased risk and severity of COVID-19.
Examples of below average metabolic health include high blood sugar, triglycerides, HDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist size – all of which can be related to diet.
This begs the question: How does diet affect the risk and severity of the novel coronavirus?
According to researchers at King’s College London and Harvard Medical School, such evidence is lacking. To fill this gap, the researchers analyzed data from 592,571 participants in the UK and US from a smartphone-based COVID symptom study with a particular focus on nutritional quality, risk, and severity of COVID-19 and its intersection with socioeconomic deprivation.
Analyze nutrition and socioeconomics
The COVID Symptom Study included participants who were recruited between March and December 2020.
In addition to reporting on COVID-19 symptoms and personal medical history, participants were asked to report on diet and lifestyle habits. Their postcodes were also noted.
Specifically, they were asked how often they ate a portion of a certain food on average (out of a total of 27 foods).
The results of the preprint paper, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, indicated that those with the healthiest diets were more likely to be older, female, health-care workers, have a lower BMI, and / or be physically active for five days a day, week or longer . They also lived less often in areas of higher socio-economic disadvantage.
During the entire study, 31,815 cases of COVID-19 with over 3,886,274 “person-months” of follow-up examinations were documented. Among these, the COVID-19 rate per 10,000 person-months was 72 for those on the healthiest diets, while it rose to 104.1 for those with the poorest diet.
Ultimately, the researchers concluded that high nutritional quality compared to low nutritional quality is associated with a lower risk of COVID-19.
The results on the severity of COVID-19 were repeated, with high nutritional quality associated with a lower risk of severe COVID-19 compared to low nutritional quality.
Similarly, food quality was lower and the risk of COVID-19 was higher in areas with “high socio-economic deprivation” and areas with low physical activity.
Addressing social determinants of health
The researchers’ data show that eating a healthy diet – one characterized by “healthy plant-based foods” – is associated with both lower risk and lower severity of the novel coronavirus, even when other healthy behaviors are social determinants of health , and virus transmission measures.
“The shared association of nutritional quality and socioeconomic deprivation was greater than the addition of the risks associated with each individual factor, suggesting that nutritional quality may have a direct impact on the susceptibility and progression of COVID-19,” they continued.
“Our results suggest that public health actions to improve diet and poor metabolic health, and address the social determinants of health, may be important in reducing the burden of the pandemic.”
“Nutritional quality and risk and severity of COVID-19: a prospective cohort study”
Published online June 25, 2021
Authors: Jordi Merino, Amid D. Joshi, Long H. Nguyen, et al.