We’re spending trillions on COVID-19 relief, and another trillion-dollar infrastructure bill is being proposed. Yet there is no investment in truly preventing COVID and its comorbidities with nutrition. Action Alert!
The COVID-19 relief bill fails to get to the root cause of why the COVID pandemic hit the United States so hard. Part of the story for the high number of cases and deaths in the US is that we are a profoundly sick nation with high rates of chronic disease, many of which can be prevented or reversed with nutrition and lifestyle interventions. Funding for studies exploring how nutrition can address chronic disease and how nutritional deficiencies lead to more severe COVID outcomes would help address the underlying causes for many public health problems, but because these aren’t patented pharmaceuticals Congress doesn’t consider it. We have to change their minds.
Consider the extent of the chronic disease epidemic. The US is one of the unhealthiest nations in the world. Almost 43% of Americans over age 20 are obese, which is among the highest in the world. The US leads developed nations in type 2 diabetes; has the third highest mortality rate for circulatory diseases like high blood pressure; and is second highest in mortality rate for heart attacks.
This epidemic is worse among people of color. Racial and ethnic minorities are two times more likely than whites to have a chronic disease. Prevalence rates for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity are higher among black adults than white adults.
Chronic disease, of course, made the US particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. One study estimated that nearly two-thirds of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the U.S. could be attributed to obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart failure.
What has the government done to stem this downward spiral into crippling chronic disease? Unfortunately, the answer is “not much.”
The $1.9 trillion COVID relief package that passed recently included funding for many different programs. What’s conspicuously lacking is any acknowledgement or attempt to address COVID using nutritional strategies that are well supported by the science. Consider that, according to the government’s own figures, millions of Americans are deficient in a variety of key nutrients. Research shows that micronutrient inadequacies may impact long-term health, increasing risk for diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and yes, COVID.
All of this suggests the urgent need for a complete revamping of our healthcare system. We need significant investment in education about nutrition, for both citizens and doctors: a recent study published in The Lancet concluded that, “Despite the centrality of nutrition to healthy lifestyle, medical students are not supported to provide high-quality, effective nutrition care.” When the average length of an office visit to a doctor’s office is just over 15 minutes, there isn’t much opportunity to discuss nutrition or test for micronutrient deficiencies.
So far, the government has proven incapable of providing up-to-date nutrition advice, but there are some things the government could do to support nutrition and supplement use for COVID. The National Institutes of Health should fund studies on the effect of micronutrient inadequacies for COVID and other diseases, how nutritional interventions and lifestyle modifications could improve COVID outcomes, and how much money we could save if government health programs like Medicare and Medicaid focused seriously on disease prevention rather than treatment. This could start to move the needle for medicine more broadly.
Action Alert! Write to Congress and tell them to support funding for nutrition studies that help us get to the root causes of COVID disease and chronic illnesses. Please send your message immediately.