Will the Pandemic be a Wakeup Call to Curb the Obesity Epidemic?
More than 750,000 Americans have died due to Covid-19. In the beginning, many were elderly and vulnerable patients but as the pandemic continued we saw even young, healthy people face devastating consequences. Some had known risk factors; others did not.
But research does point to certain factors that increase the likelihood for severe illness and death if infected with Covid-19. On top of that list is advanced age. Also high up on the list is obesity.
I talked to Dr. Charlie Seltzer, a board-certified physician in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who specializes in weight loss in May 2020. His advice then was for everyone to take precautions. He also encouraged people who are overweight to use this as a motivator to make a plan to improve their health.
Now, 17 months later he says “Not one patient told me they want to lose weight because they were worried about a bad outcome from Covid-19.”
One reason, he says, is denial. “It’s drilled into people that higher body fat equates to a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other things and that doesn’t affect most people,” he said.
Unfortunately for many people, it’s not until they face a life-threatening health scare that they decide to make a change. But to be fair, it’s not easy to lose weight; it’s not just about willpower. “When it comes to losing weight, basically everything in America is keeping us from being effective or at least playing a major role in keeping us from being effective,” Seltzer said.
For one, processed food is everywhere and it’s much cheaper than whole, nutritious foods. “Most of those processed foods are made in a laboratory driven by a scientist whose education was to overcome our satiety mechanisms and keep us wanting to eat things when we’re not even hungry for them,” Seltzer said.
Entrepreneur Troy Rice in Grand Rapids, Michigan knows firsthand the impact of going from a poor diet to eating more natural foods. “I ate a lot of fast food, processed foods when I was a kid growing up. I ate cereal like three times a day,” Rice said. And he says he never felt right. He had problems with digestion, headaches, and fatigue.
It wasn’t until he learned more about where food comes from and which foods are the best to feed your body that he connected the dots. He eliminated processed foods and opted for more nutritious, whole foods including fruits, vegetables, and lean protein.
“All of a sudden I started to feel vibrant. I had tons of energy and didn’t feel tired throughout the day,” he said.
He also felt inspired to help others so he launched two startups. His company Farm Brigge aims to create 100,000 farmers markets across the U.S. And Snappier is a program he created that enables families who receive government food assistance to more easily shop at farmers markets without facing stigma.
He believes many people are stuck in poor health because they don’t have the education or access to healthy, affordable foods. “If you think about most low-income neighborhoods, not only are they not talking about food health or are familiar with it but the food they have access to is not fruits and vegetables, or lean proteins and meats. It’s highly processed granola bars or whatever is put at a gas station down the road.”
Dr. Seltzer would like to see more policies in place to help people eat healthier but knows that won’t happen overnight. In the meantime, he encourages people to make small changes.
For example, if you drink regular soda, switch to diet or better yet, water or seltzer. If you eat regular potato chips, opt for baked chips instead.
And while some people put on the “quarantine 15” during the pandemic, Rice also saw a positive change. Many families were forced to slow down which led to more home-cooked meals. “It started to shift the dynamic and people started to think ‘Oh, this is what we could eat and maybe this is helping us feel better,’” he said, adding “If anything, I am hoping it helps people realize food should be a top priority if they want to live the most vibrant life.”