Nations outside of the United States are working to tackle what science has repeatedly shown: there is a link between life-style related disease and the risk of COVID-19 and resulting complications. Meanwhile, the U.S. government and health officials keep the COVID conversation fueled surrounding vaccine mandates and mask enforcement, with little to no mention of or push toward the importance of a healthier lifestyle.
Using this same approach, the federal officials partnered with fast food hamburger chain McDonald’s to promote the vaccine,1 and political figures such as Mayor Bill de Blasio (NYC) are promoting vaccine incentives by fast food restaurants such as Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.
Other Countries Implement Strategies to Fight Obesity and COVID
Great Britain launched a government-wide obesity strategy banning television junk food advertisements at certain times of day.2 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson began jogging to lose weight after being infected and hospitalized with SARS-CoV-2, and he has continued to urge the public to implement healthier habits.3 Some states in Mexico banned junk food sales to children. In Chile, where almost three quarters of the population is obese, the government implemented aggressive food label warnings beginning in 2016.4
“Globally, these issues are on fire. In the U.S., we’re… sucking our thumb” said one anonymous food industry consultant as reported by Politico.2
Diet and lifestyle changes have never been part of the messaging surrounding COVID. Former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman stated:
It’s a gigantic gap in the discussion about how health care relates to COVID and how it related to the prevention of disease.2
U.S. “Big Food” Industry Spends $52 Million to Influence Public Policy
The lack of promotion by mainstream media of healthy lifestyles may, in large part, be due to two industries that largely fund advertising campaigns and help shape U.S. public policy: the pharmaceutical and the food industries. It is no secret that this has been an ongoing conflict of interest for decades—one that has been widely scrutinized and even compared to the aggressive tactics of the tobacco industry.
“Big Food,” as one published journal article references it, “purchases influence at every level of government and fights commonsense regulations by funding ‘shadow’ advocacy groups and sympathetic scientists.”5 The author argues that the Big Food industry is “far more powerful and better resourced” than big tobacco, all while escaping public notice.5 The food industry allegedly influences the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a result of the millions of dollars in direct contributions to House and Senate Committee Members, who are directly responsible for food regulation.5
The Centers for Responsive Politics, an organization dedicated to monetary transparency in politics, shows that total contributions to politicians from the food and beverage industry total over $52 million.6 New York University professor Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, who has authored several books about food policy, said:
If you’re going to do anything about it, you have to take on the food industry which no one wants to do.2
Pharmaceutical Industry Biggest Lobbying Group on Capitol Hill and in State Legislatures
Since 1999, the pharmaceutical industry has contributed the most money of any other industry to members of Congress and state legislatures. In 2020, that total reached over $312 million.7
The Center for Responsive Politics reports:
Pharmaceutical companies’ top lobbying group funneled millions of dollars to prominent “dark money” groups that pushed industry friendly messages to lawmakers and 2020 voters.8
Nearly Two-Thirds of COVID hospitalizations Contributed to Modifiable Lifestyle Diseases
The most recent numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) demonstrate that obesity rates in the U.S. are at an all-time high, sitting at over 42 percent. Black and Hispanic adults have a higher obesity prevalence than the rest of the nation, reaching 49.6 percent and 44.8 percent respectively.9 In line with what research is demonstrating, the two populations also have higher incidences of COVID mortality rates. These correlations are present even after adjusting for socioeconomic factors such as income and insurance coverage.10
Researchers have estimated that 64 percent of COVID hospitalizations in the U.S. could be attributed to modifiable lifestyle diseases, such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension, which impair the body’s immune response. More than one of these conditions are often present in individuals suffering with complications of COVID.11
To add to the issue, many gyms were closed for months during the beginning of the pandemic. Some cities and individual gyms are now only allowing those who are vaccinated to utilize their facilities “in an effort to slow virus spread”.12
Even as research increasingly demonstrates that obesity and lifestyle related diseases are major contributors to COVID complications, the root issue of poor health conditions that affect susceptibility to being hospitalized and dying from COVID are being ignored in a nation where fast food and obesity are prevalent.
Sam Kass, White House chef and senior nutrition policy adviser during the Obama administration, said:
When the house is on fire, you’re not worried about the foundation. You’re just trying to put the fire out. But we’ve got to get our arms around this.2
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Click here to view References:
1 Lardieri A. McDonald’s, White House partner to promote coronavirus vaccine. U.S. News & World Report May 11, 2021.
2 Evich H. Diet-related diseases post a major risk for COVID-19. But the U.S. overlooks them. Politico Oct. 31, 2021.
3 Smith P. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson urges Britons to slim down to beat COVID-19. NBC News July 27, 2021.
4 Chambers J. The labels encouraging Chileans to buy healthier food. BBC Aug. 11, 2021.
5 Gostin L. “Big Food” is making America sick. Milbank Quarterly Sept. 13, 2016; 94(3): 480-4.
6 Center for Responsive Politics. Food & Beverage: Long-Term Contribution Trends. Open Secrets.
7 Center for Responsive Politics. Industries. Open Secrets.
8 Evers-Hillstron K. Pharma lobby poured millions into ‘dark money’ groups influencing 2020 election. Open Secrets Dec. 8, 2021.
9 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adult Obesity Facts. Sept. 30, 2021.
10 Needham B. Blacks, Hispanics amongst hardest hit during COVID-19 pandemic, study shows. The University Record July 20, 2021.
11 Bryant E. Most COVID-19 hospitalizations due to four conditions. NIH Research Matters Mar. 9, 2021.
12 Conte C. In an effort to slow virus spread, gyms are requiring you to be vaccinated. The Denver Channel Aug. 16, 2021.