My thoughts and prayers are with all of us dealing with COVID-19, from those directly affected with illness, for concern of loved ones and sorrow for those lost, and for lives affected by the economy and the uncertainty that comes with it.
After I finally came to grips with the magnitude of the coronavirus, my default perspective kicked in. That is, all roads lead to health from my view. Health affects everything, and is determined mostly by how we eat, how we move our bodies, how we think and how we feel. And, in this case, how susceptible we are to coronavirus.
What we can and cannot control
The number one risk factor for coronavirus is age. Age is the one risk factor we cannot control. It is what it is. It’s life. But we can control how healthily we age, which is factored in to the age related risk of coronavirus.
The other three coronavirus risk factors are heart disease, diabetes and lung disease. These three are mostly preventable, within our control, and affect how we age, compromise our immune systems, and make us more vulnerable to illness. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Lung disease includes things such as COPD and asthma. Asthma is essentially bad luck—with a tendency to develop it through heredity, but it doesn’t mean it has to—and environmental factors including overweight. On the other hand, COPD is not essentially from bad luck, or heredity. The number one cause of COPD is SMOKING. About 15% of our population still smokes today. Smoking is the number cause of preventable death today. Smoking is within our control.
Heart disease and diabetes have a direct correlation with obesity, and obesity is preventable. All roads lead to health. Forty two percent of American adults aged 20 and over are obese (2017-2018). Estimates say it will continue to rise.
We live in an obesogenic society—meaning—the sum of influences that the surroundings, opportunities, or conditions of life have on promoting obesity in individuals or populations. That means our food environment is much of the problem.
Overweight and obesity were associated with nearly 1 in 5 deaths (18.2%) among adults in the United States from 1986 through 2006, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health.
And straight from the CDC website, “Obesity is a serious concern because it is associated with poorer mental health outcomes, reduced quality of life, and the leading causes of death in the U.S. and worldwide, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.”1
And, most important to note, “People and families may make decisions based on their environment or community.”2
Many people try to make positive health change, but one of the major the obstacles is the food environment and culture. We must change our culture to make it easier for people to make healthier choices.
As a nation, we are unfit for our military, we have lost productivity at work to the tune of $8 billion per year, and the strain on our healthcare system with obesity related healthcare costs at a staggering $190.2 billion per year – that’s 21% of annual medical spending in the United States! And childhood obesity breaks my heart. It's an awful trend. It is responsible for $14 billion in direct medical costs and will continue to rise.3
Our government is handling the coronavirus crisis beautifully. They have all hands on deck, doing what they can, as fast as they can. The federal and local task forces are putting in the work and saving lives. I am grateful. This crisis is incredibly devastating. This is a great use of our government resources.
When it comes to the obesity crisis that kills nearly 20% of Americans each year, I have a few suggestions necessary for top down change, while communities take on the necessary grassroots efforts. There are many things that need to happen to shift our culture and make it easier for Americans to choose healthier diets and to exercise.
Our government will need to decide that the health of our nation is more important than politics, i.e., vs. the food/sugar/beverage lobbies. There is clear reluctance to take on the food lobbies and the sugar and sweetened beverage lobbies, etc. for our nation’s health for obvious political reasons.
Obesity has risen in the past four decades as we see continued marketing increase to both children and adults. I investigated the FDA marketing report years ago and wrote about it in my book Health Inspires. I was not impressed with the changes made from those efforts with our tax dollars. At least there is much less marketing in our nation’s schools.
I am not for a processed food tax based on what I know about our government’s work in this space. They have showed us they side with the lobbies by their inaction for policy change. That is my opinion. Their work in this space is unremarkable from my view. My inner child says they don’t deserve my tax dollars for this cause. This would raise the price of junk food, which I am for, and I think there is a better way to do this.
I am for making healthy foods less expensive and junk foods more expensive. I am also for creating a large octagonal warning sign for front of package on over processed food products loaded with chemicals, sodium, sugar, unhealthy fats and other additives. The image has an educational message that will influence people’s purchasing habits for their families and the higher price will make it a no brainer not to buy it. The presumption is that the manufacturers will make healthier foods since we are now not buying their products with higher prices and warning labels. And the healthier foods will cost less ( I know…I am really dreaming now). Our buying power creates change in the food industry.
Dr. Barry Popkin has spent his life’s work in this space. Look him up and listen to my interview with him on the Holistic Health and Happiness podcast Episode 2. Dr. Popkin explains how his work in other countries have changed people’s food purchasing habits. You can make your own decisions on food tax, regulations and warning signs.
It must align with policy change. I pitched a Modern Day Home Economics class to SXSW EDU in 2016 for the 2017 event to include food marketing awareness so children can learn from an early age about food marketing. You can view it here. It’s under three minutes. It didn’t make the cut. This class was to include cooking skills among other life skills. Bring it back! There is a lot of great work being done in our public health departments/schools. We need to start earlier in young lives. I suggest some tax dollars be spent on billboard ads in at risk areas, sharing positive public health messages and resources available to society. We need to take care of the food desserts, etc. There are soooooo many things we can change to educate people on healthy food choices.
Support comes from families and communities. There are resources available to help these grass roots efforts create health change in our society. Listen to my interview with Dr. Baker Harrell on the Holistic Health and Happiness podcast, Episode 1. Dr. Harrell founded It’s Time Texas to create a health movement in Texas. Baker’s story might inspire many to make positive health change. We can do this together. We are always stronger together.
Stopping this coronavirus pandemic is a priority. I praise our government’s work here. When things settle, we need urgency to shift the obesity epidemic. It’s a real problem and together, we can turn the tide. It’s time.
Health Inspires, LLC
Live Healthy. Dream Big. Be Bold.
Kathryn Scoblick is author of Health Inspires: Your Way to Sustainable Weight Loss and creator of the Holistic Health and Happiness podcast found on Apple Podcasts and Spotify and on her website healthinspires.com/podcast. She serves on the Austin Mayor’s Health and Fitness Advisory Council, is a Health Education expert on Sharecare (owned in part by Dr. Oz and Oprah Winfrey) and contributes to her local school districts School Health Advisory Council (SHAC). She is proud to work for Honor, helping more people age safely at home as they age.
My passion and purpose is helping people reach their full potential and master their wellbeing.
Disclosure: Always consult with your physician or other qualified health care provider before beginning any diet or exercise program and ask whether you are healthy enough to engage in a diet and exercise program. Never disregard, avoid or delay in obtaining medical advice from your doctor or other qualified health care provider concerning your overall health and wellness, including your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. It is your choice to follow the suggestions, opinions and advice given by a Health Inspires wellness coach.