Two years into the pandemic and CNN is finally promoting weight loss as a tool that can reduce disease severity and death as it relates to the pandemic. (It’s better late than never, but it’s frustrating to many of us who’ve been censored for saying this over and over during the past two years.)
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Post from January, 2020:
Here’s the backstory: legacy media outlets like CNN have repeatedly overused the phrase “perfectly healthy” to characterize people (often obese) hospitalized from COVID-19 over the last two years. I’m unsure of their intent, but it sure seems there was a desire to create the illusion that everyone’s risk of severe disease is equally probable, which is scientifically untrue.
Upon closer inspection, the pictures and associated video(s) accompanying these feature stories of “perfectly healthy” people gave clues that perhaps the viral infection wasn’t the only imminent health concern: many of these anecdotes included overweight and/or obese individuals. That minor detail was oft omitted. Needless to say, as early as March 2020, a large body of scientific literature began to emerge suggesting overweight and obesity are second only to old age as the strongest risk factors for severe disease, hospitalization and even death from this virus.
It’s curious that now, nearly two years after a steady stream of research linking exercise and healthy lifestyle change with reduced chances of severe disease, hospitalization and death, that major news organizations are finally bringing it up. “Who cares?” you ask.
There are consequences associated with selectively omitting science and research, especially when you ostensibly stand for providing information that can help save lives and keep people out of the hospital. The public at large who rely upon network news to get updates about ways to keep themselves and their families safe from pathogens aren’t regularly combing through peer-reviewed studies. Instead of eating healthier foods and increasing their physical activity, now a scientifically validated means to reduce the odds of severe disease, many Americans canceled their gym memberships, chose to stay indoors and ordered food via apps en masse.
To no one’s surprise, society’s response to the pandemic only further reduced already low levels of physical activity by some 30 percent or more. Obesity rates, and thus COVID risk, in adults and children ballooned. Sadly, for many, the extra weight and associated health risks will not be easily reversed—it’s much easier to gain as opposed to lose body fat, a term scientist call recidivism.
Here we are two years later, after all sorts of safety interventions and policy makers appearing baffled that an even more benign variant is leading to increases in hospitalizations. It’s not as though the science linking diet-induced diseases as risk factors for severe disease didn’t exist early on, because it did exist. In fact, various researchers, including the Healthy Living for Pandemic Event Protection (HL- PIVOT) network in Chicago, warned the world about this burgeoning syndemic—an epidemic of obesity and poor metabolic health occurring amid a viral outbreak. That’s two pandemics baked into one, if you will.
Since viewers of these media outlets do follow what the health experts featured on their show say (think double and or triple masking), mention of healthy foods and exercise would have gone a long way. It’s not as though this now large dossier of science was hard to find, because it wasn’t. (Rumor has it you can read these full-text PDFs from PubMed via your iPhone while sitting on the can—don’t ask me how I know that.)
Because schools, businesses and pre-pandemic life seem to be forever contingent upon hospital capacity, it seems negligent to ignore the practical ways that can lower the odds of hospitalization in the first place—besides masking until the end of time and giving booster shots to 12-year-olds. Low capacity means more restrictions and closures, so let’s close fitness centers but allow McDonald’s to deliver onion rings and McFlurry shakes to people sitting at home, right?
On the one hand, it’s great CNN is finally acknowledging that weight loss can reduce the odds of severe disease, but I worry it’s a little too late. Many people still perceive lifestyle factors to be unrelated to infectious disease outcomes. They have images of “perfectly healthy” hospitalized people from media anecdotes indelibly inked into their minds as they pull their mask up between bites and sips of their lunch: a sugar-infused POWERADE, cheeseburger and fries.