Poor diet and Covid-19

Covid-19 and the elephant in the room – obesity

Poor diet is a root cause behind increased mortality from Covid-19 – and many expert medical and nutrition names are hollering for the public and government authorities to recognise this.

Dr Assema Malhotra, well-known and vocal Consultant Cardiologist and Professor of Evidence Based Medicine at the NHS, says now is the time to eat real food, to protect the UK’s health service and save lives.

“Obesity, type 2 diabetes and a cluster of risk factors all linked to poor diet is the root cause behind increased death rates from coronavirus,” he says.

“Ultra-processed food which makes up half of British diet blamed as primary culprit of high corona death toll.”

Referring to US data where obesity levels are similar to the UK he notes that only 1 in 8 people are metabolically healthy including less than 1 in 3 of “normal” weight.

Obesity, type 2 diabetes and a cluster of risk factors all linked to poor diet is the root cause behind increased mortality from Covid -19. The UK death toll crossed over 13,700 on Friday April 17.

He adds, “We shouldn’t ignore the fact that 50-60% % of the 1.4 million NHS workforce are themselves overweight or obese too, not surprising when more than half of the British Diet is ultra-processed food and three quarters of food purchased in hospitals is unhealthy.

“South Korea which has one of the lowest prevalence of obesity in the world could in part explain it’s low mortality rate form the virus.”

Writing in European Scientist, Malhotra calls on public health messaging to be urgently updated in the light of Covid -19 to ensure people are eating nutritious whole foods in an attempt to reduce risk and subsequent death rates from the virus.

Drawing on UK data he notes that 72.7% of patients admitted to ICU are overweight or obese and that those with the related metabolic syndrome have a tenfold increase in mortality from the virus.

Dr Malhotra, who has long campaigned against sugary and ultra-processed food, says his findings, backed up internationally by leading doctors and nutritionists and data coming in from every country affected by the Covid-19 outbreak, can no longer be ignored.

“What is staggering is that looking at all the data, it is irrefutable that metabolic disease is the leading cause of mortality from Covid-19. This covers much of what we are already being told, that outcomes for patients suffering from type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure are far worse than in otherwise healthy adults.

“What is not being spelled out is that poor diet and obesity is behind this.”

Yet he says that key changes to the way we eat can have significant effects, within weeks, reducing blood pressure and even reversing Type 2 diabetes.

“By immediately cutting out sugar and ultra-processed food and preparing fresh meals, the impact on health can be seen in just a matter of weeks.

“We have always been far too cautious in the UK in rolling out a massive public health campaign to get people eating properly when we have known for over a decade that obesity-related illness is the biggest factor behind poor health and hospital admissions in the UK.

“Now we find ourselves in a public health crisis brought on by Covid-19, and can see clearly obesity and diet-related disease is behind a significant increase in the risk of hospitalisation and death.

“With people at home catering for themselves every single night while this virus rampages through the country, the message is not just clear, it is urgent.

“The general public need to be told IMMEDIATELY by official sources to cut out sugar, refined carbohydrates and junk food and switch to a whole food diet abundant in vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, dairy and plenty of protein from pulses, fish, meat, and eggs, to improve their health within weeks to help protect themselves if they contract the novel coronavirus.

“Given the speed at which health markers for metabolic disease improve from dietary interventions, an equally strong if not more significant population health message should now be to “eat real food, protect the NHS and save lives.” 

“Such implementation backed by policy changes may not just save hundreds and potentially thousands of lives around the world in the coming months but, given the high likelihood of another international viral pandemic in the next decade, a healthier population and a subsequently more manageable health service will be much better equipped to handle what would then be a smaller mortality peak on the next occasion.

“Hopefully if and when that occurs a lockdown will not be required.”

European Scientist: Read the full article

Expert reaction

Tim Spector, Professor of genetic epidemiology, King’s College, London and author of the Diet Myth said, “Obesity and poor diet is emerging as one of the biggest risk factors for a severe response to Covid-19 infection that can no longer be ignored.”

Robert Lustig, Professor of paediatric endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco and chairman of institute of responsible nutrition said, “I’ve heard Covid-19 referred to a beast, because it doesn’t distinguish. In point of fact, it doesn’t distinguish who it infects. But it does distinguish who it kills. Other than the elderly, it’s those who are Black, obese, and/or have pre-existing conditions.

“What distinguished these three demographics? Ultra- Processed food. Because ultra -processed food sets you up for inflammation, which Covid-19 is happy to exploit. Just another way processed food kills. Time to rethink your menu.”

Kimmy Pearson, Harley Street and BANT Registered Nutritionist said, “Associations between our health status and the extent to which Covid-19 is likely to affect us are becoming increasingly apparent. We are now well aware of the increased risk of death to those carrying excess weight.

“There has been the tendency to tip toe around the issue of obesity, with clinicians hesitant to point it out to their patients for fear of repercussion and accusations of ‘fat shaming’.

“While this is without doubt a very sensitive subject which must be handled with care, the current pandemic highlights the very real fact that overlooking the seriousness of excess weight is costing lives.”

Dr James DiNicolantonio, Cardiovascular research scientist St Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute said, “Dr Aseem Malhotra sheds light on the real elephant in the room with COVID-19 and that is the people who are most susceptible to this virus, besides the elderly, are those individuals who are overweight or obese.

“Not only does being overweight increase the risk of dying from viruses but it also increases the risk of heart disease. He should be applauded for bringing this topic to light and the healthcare system should take notice of this important point of view.

“The evidence clearly reveals dietary changes rapidly improve health markers of those most at risk of Covid-19. We must help and empower people to make those changes as a matter of urgency.”

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