Fifteen Pounds to Slow the Spread
The best thing you can do to fight Covid-19 might be just to become less fat.
The media, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and World Health Organization (all really covering themselves in glory over the past year) have declared the variants of Covid-19 a veritable alphabet soup. Of course, we’ve got Delta from India, which the CDC labeled “a variant of concern” in June, and which we’ve heard lots about since. But there are other “of concern” viral pasta bits, too, from all over the world. There’s Alpha, which first appeared in Great Britain. And there’s Beta, which popped up in South Africa. Then there are not one but two Epsilon variants, spotted first in the U.S. Plus there’s a Gamma found in Brazil.
Served this dish it is time to stop eating. Here’s a slogan, some advice, and I plan to take it, too: Lose 15 pounds to slow the spread. By now we’ve all seen reports of breakthrough cases, where fully vaccinated people not only test positive for Covid-19 but experience substantial symptoms. The present and the future is beginning to look like ever-multiplying variants of the virus, many of them more contagious, with some vaccine-resistant. This seems to be the natural outcome of current selection pressures.
Perhaps, then, it’s time to face a fact: You’re not going to booster shot or mask or “social” distance your way out of this. You’re going to be exposed to this virus, one way or another, like how in any other year you’re exposed to many other viruses. You can do whatever else you decide is prudent to do—catch a dose of all the available vaccines and turn yourself into a Pokemon (do not), supplement certain minerals (I do), take a regimen of over-the-counter and overseas medications (considering it)—but recognize that first and foremost your health as an organism reflects a state of biological dynamism and that panaceas are a myth. Thus, perhaps the primary thing you and I can and should do to improve our chances of beating Covid variants with minimal symptoms and spread is lose some weight.
A study from the CDC examining 540,667 adults hospitalized with Covid-19 from March of last year to March of this year found that about 95 percent had at least one underlying medical condition. Hypertension and disorders of lipid metabolism were the most frequent (about 50 percent each), whereas obesity (33 percent), certain experiences of diabetes, and anxiety disorders were the strongest risk factors for a severe or fatal hospitalization case of Covid-19. Much of this can be distilled as the many possible consequences and manifestations of metabolic disease, most obvious (though “skinny fat” is real) in being generally overweight.
You might already be a healthy weight, without 15 pounds to lose, but that makes you a minority in America. More than 70 percent of adult Americans are considered overweight; about 36 percent are obese. Many people reported substantial weight gain during lockdowns this past year.
In fact, the lockdown lifestyle was, according to a study of the “cytokine storm” response to Covid infections available through the NIH, exactly the sort of thing that makes outcomes worse. The researchers focus on “the link between unhealthy lifestyle characteristics, excess body mass and abnormalities in systemic inflammation,” coming to the same conclusion as the study above, that, “In such individuals, the stage is set for increased COVID-19 severity in the event of infection.” After reviewing the mechanism of the cytokine storm, and observing the relationship of a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet with inflammation, the study recommends that “healthy living medicine should be practiced with renewed vigor to improve human resiliency to health threats posed by both chronic disease and viral infections.” It’s time to prescribe diet and exercise again.
If, as the vaccination campaigns have reminded us time and again, we have an obligation to be a part of slowing and stopping the spread of this disease, of keeping the burden on our health care system as light as possible, of, in short, contributing to the protection of public health, then “the science,” as the libs say, has spoken: Stop accepting being fat; stop celebrating being fat; stop treating symptoms when you can tackle a part of the cause you actually have control over. Eat less and better (up your protein), get outside and take long walks (I think I’ll start wearing a weighted pack), enjoy the sunshine while we have it, before another “dark winter” (you are almost certainly vitamin D deficient), lift weights (look up a “5×5” program; gym bros are nice and will help you out), run (it hurts but it works and it’s a human distinctive).
I’m well aware that the American food and drug system is stacked against this; it takes intention, effort, and discipline to fight the status quo and choose not to be overweight. But you owe it to yourself and, in an age of pandemics, you owe it to your fellow Americans.