Many in Washington are shouting “follow the science.” With the novel coronavirus, while there is significant confusion over effective medical treatments to prevent or cure COVID-19, one key piece of scientific evidence is beyond dispute: Those at the highest risk of extreme illness and death have underlying conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure. In some studies, up to 97 percent of people dying of COVID-19 have these conditions.
So, even if you’re old, but not overweight, and do not have these conditions, your chances of survival are not bad. If you’re young, are significantly overweight, and have these conditions, your chances of survival are much worse. In New York City, obesity was, overwhelmingly, a key risk factor for COVID-19 hospitalizations.
In the future, America will face another serious pandemic. And we’ve learned from COVID-19 that waiting for medical cures or preventative medicines takes too long and follows huge losses. Further, it is clear that we can’t continue to shut down our economy and parts of our military, and overwhelm our health care system. We need a strategy.
From the perspectives of science and national security, the correct strategy is clear: All Americans need to eat healthier foods, lose weight, and get into good physical shape. All of this supports immunity. It is well established that obesity, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure are largely preventable with healthy diet and lifestyle. But healthy living is very difficult for Americans facing relentless advertising for processed and unhealthy foods, addictive (salt and sugar) ultra-processed food, entrenched and culturally-reinforced taste preferences, limited access to healthy foods for many Americans, public policy that subsidizes disease-promoting foods, sedentary behavior, and a health care and medical education system that still largely emphasizes sick care over prevention.
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