Why obesity might be the biggest pandemic we face

Why obesity might be the biggest pandemic we face

While the world is currently focused on a higher-profile pandemic, there is another, quieter one that kills over 2.8 million people globally each year: obesity. In fact, studies suggest that obesity is the leading controllable cause of death in the U.S., accounting for 18% of all deaths of those between age 40 and 85; it’s linked to several chronic diseases including Type 2 diabetes, hyperlipidemia, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and cancer. 

What’s more, there’s also strong evidence to suggest that obesity is linked to a significant portion of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. In short: it’s becoming clear that obesity is the most dangerous threat we face.

Obesity already accounts for 18% of all deaths among black and white Americans ages 40 to 85 — and will likely be much higher once we account for deaths related to COVID-19.

The epidemic our government has failed to address

In 1999, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued a warning about a “growing obesity epidemic,” as obesity levels spiked from 12 percent in 1991 to 17.9% in 1998. That same report attributed obesity to over 300,000 deaths per year, making it the second-leading controllable cause of death behind tobacco in the U.S. Two decades later, U.S. obesity levels surpassed 40% for the first time in history, reaching 42.4% in 2018.

In 2010, Healthy People 2020 — a government initiative most Americans have probably never heard of — established physical activity objectives with the goal of reducing obesity in America from 33.9% to 30.5% by 2020. That these levels actually increased to 42.4% in 2018 is an epic failure by our government.

Our government set an objective to reduce obesity to 30.5% by 2020. Instead, it increased to 42.4% by the end of 2018.

So why has an issue identified by the CDC as a “growing epidemic” not only been largely ignored, but allowed to become significantly worse? Local governments have shut down schools, businesses and our entire way of life in an effort to save lives from the coronavirus but have made virtually no effort to curb obesity. Outside of a few cities implementing a sugar tax that has shown very little success in changing behavior, there have been no significant initiatives to combat a condition that may prove to be deadlier than COVID-19. We can only guess that the government and media are heavily influenced by multinational corporations that make billions of dollars each year supplying food and drinks that contribute to obesity.

Obesity and COVID-19

While it’s too early for concrete results, preliminary data has indicated a strong link between obesity and hospitalization and death rates from COVID-19. In fact, a study in New York of 4,000 patients found obesity to be the highest risk factor, second only to age.  A study in Seattle found that 62% of patients who died from COVID-19 also had obesity, while 36% of deaths were those who were not obese.  Another study found that younger patients who were obese were more likely to be hospitalized, which may also explain the disparities in income and race among COVID-19 patients.

A study of 4000 COVID-19 patients in New York found obesity to be the highest risk factor second only to age

As a result of these ties between obesity and the severity of COVID-19 cases, the CDC has recently added severe obesity to their list of risk factors. Scientists have yet to determine exactly why, but it could be because people with obesity are more likely to have higher resistance in their airways, lower lung volumes and weaker respiratory muscles, leaving them more vulnerable to COVID-19. Research has tied obesity to impaired immune systems.

In addition, a study released last year found that the flu vaccine was not as effective for people with obesity, explaining that a “30-year-old obese person has the immune cells … you might expect in an 80-year-old individual.” It also found that people with obesity were more likely to spread the flu.

Once more data is gathered, it seems likely that obesity will have contributed to a significant number of COVID-19 deaths. When you factor in other obesity-related deaths caused by conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, obesity may yet prove to be the deadliest pandemic of the next decade.

Obesity may yet prove to be the deadliest pandemic of the next decade.

What can we do to stay healthy?

We are still at least seven months away from a vaccine, and many experts believe there will be a second wave of the virus this fall. But unlike COVID-19, we don’t need a vaccine or a drug to cure obesity. And by decreasing our obesity levels, we can significantly reduce our risk of hospitalization and death from the coronavirus.

Everyone knows that a combination of increased physical activity and healthier eating habits will lead to weight loss, but that is easier said than done.  Our society doesn’t make it easy for us:

  • Gains in science and technology have made food more plentiful and relatively cheaper.
  • Technology has also enabled us to function with less movement — which we are currently demonstrating during government-imposed shutdowns.
  • Food and drink companies scientifically engineer food to be addictive and bombard us with marketing to fuel those cravings.

People need both guidance and support to navigate the many pitfalls in our society.  Diets are an attractive way to lose weight quickly, but prove ineffective in the long term. In addition, overly restrictive diets may lack the nutrition you need for a healthy immune system. At Flow Fitness, we believe that long-term lifestyle changes are the best way to effectively lose weight and keep it off.

People who suffer from obesity should not be shamed — they should be supported in reclaiming their health. 

Conclusion

Obesity has long been linked to deaths from conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, but new research has also linked obesity to deaths from COVID-19 — making it potentially the deadliest condition in our country. Obesity not only kills people, but also takes up valuable resources from our overburdened health care system, costing almost $200 billion each year.

Our government thus far has not made any significant efforts to address this issue, despite the link to COVID-19, instead letting U.S. obesity rates double in the past two decades, so it’s up to society to take on this responsibility. Remember that people who suffer from obesity should not be shamed — they should be supported and provided with the awareness, education and resources they need to reclaim their health.

If you or someone you know are looking for the guidance and support needed to lose weight, Flow Fitness is launching our Healthy Lifestyles Program which focuses on making healthy lifestyle changes through nutrition and exercise. We combine technology with personal accountability to provide an effective yet affordable solution — not only promoting weight loss, but helping you maintain it for years to come. Please contact info@flowfitnessseattle.com to learn more about this program — and be well.

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