Health experts have made it very clear from the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic that the most vulnerable populations to the virus were those with chronic conditions such as diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), both of which are often related to obesity and may be preventable. I asked River Valley Regional YMCA CEO, Chad Eberhart, his thoughts on using exercise and preventative health care measures as part of a plan to help curb this, and future, pandemics.
What is preventative health care? – Preventative Health Care consists of measures taken for disease prevention that can prevent or detect diseases and medical conditions before they become serious problems. Annual physicals, immunizations, flu shots and certain tests and screenings are some examples of preventive care. A Proper diet, regular exercise, and maintaining an optimal weight are also part of a preventative health care plan.
Why do you believe that proper diet and exercise are as important as the vaccine or social distancing? – Every year millions of people die of conditions related to lifestyle choices. A 2004 article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that about half of all deaths in the United States in 2000 were due to behaviors that were preventable. Leading causes of death included cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, unintentional injuries, diabetes, and certain infectious diseases. This same study estimated that approximately 400,000 people die each year in the United States due to poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Preventive healthcare and a healthy lifestyle are especially important since the incidence of these diseases is on the rise worldwide. Since people with these lifestyle conditions are at a greater risk of serious illness with COVID-19 it stands to reason that if more people were healthy, fewer people would get seriously ill.
What other scientific evidence is there to support the importance of preventative health care? – Experts have stated for many years that exercise and proper nutrition are necessary to an individual’s health. These same experts have also stated that Chronic disease is more likely to occur in someone who is overweight and inactive. The CDC has reported that 90% of the nation’s annual healthcare costs are to treat chronic disease. Our nations obesity rate has grown to an all-time high of 42% in 2019. Data related to COVID-19 shows that hospitalizations and deaths were more likely for individuals who were obese. There are many diets and prescriptions that promote a quick fix, we believe that the ultimate goal for everyone who is obese is to create a lifestyle change. This lifestyle change includes regular exercise and adjustments to their eating habits. Exercise provides many benefits beyond just weight loss including lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, dementia and Alzheimer’s, several types of cancer, and some complications of pregnancy. Additionally, exercise helps to improve sleep, including related issues such as insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea. It can also improve cognition, including memory, attention and processing speed, less weight gain, obesity related chronic health conditions, bone health, balance, depression, and anxiety. According to the American Heart Association, better health means a better quality of life and an improved sense of overall well-being.
Through analysis of Johns Hopkins University virus mortality data and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) data on obesity, the World Obesity Federation—a non-profit associated with the WHO—calculated that 2.2 million of the pandemic’s 2.5 million global deaths were in countries with high levels of obesity. The report found death rates were 10x higher in countries where more than 50% of the population is overweight, pointing to the U.K. and the U.S. as examples. The U.K. has the third-highest death rate in the world (184 deaths per 100,000 population) and the fourth-highest obesity rate with 63.7% of adults classifying as overweight, closely followed by the U.S., which has 152.49 deaths per 100,000 and 67.9% of the population living with obesity. Vietnam, on the other hand, has the lowest Covid-19 death rate in the world (0.04 deaths per 100,000), and also reports the second-lowest rate of obesity (18.3% of adults).
The report highlights that there is “not a single example internationally” of a country with low levels of obesity—classified as less than 40% of the population overweight—and high death rates.
How could agencies like the YMCA and other fitness centers work with government and regional health systems to improve the health of the population in our area? – This is not something the YMCA or any other wellness business will be able to have an impact on without help from an entire community. Our goal is to identify the obese population and then reach out to support them through a lifestyle change. We know that many overweight, obese and inactive people are not motivated to exercise so we need to put our arm around them and walk them through the process of becoming more active and making small lifestyle changes. If we all collectively can focus on decreasing obesity by staying active ourselves or inviting someone else to be active with us eventually, we will be able to start lowering our nation’s obesity rate. Think of the statistics above related to Covid death rates compared to overweight percent of the population – These statistics make it clear that if we can decrease obesity and increase activity, we will save lives.
Dave Bellomo is a fitness trainer and wellness professional and can be reached at email@example.com or messaged through Bellomo Online Training on Facebook.