krispy kreme doughnuts

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The severity of our reaction to Covid-19 depends on our metabolic and gut health, both of which are undermined by an ultra-processed diet

Amongst the food companies blatantly taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis to build their unhealthy brands, Krispy Kreme takes the biscuit – or the doughnut.

One-and-a-half thousand of their synthetic, sugary products donated as a ‘treat’ for NHS frontline workers produced copious social media coverage that money could never buy. Smiling staff from St George’s Hospital Trust posed obligingly on Twitter holding up boxes of these synthetic confections.

Medics who didn’t interpret Krispy Kreme’s PR stunt as evidence of a caring, socially-minded company were accused of demonising doughnuts. What’s the harm in one doughnut, after all? Frontline workers deserve a treat, don’t they? To me that’s like saying there’s nothing wrong with smoking the odd cigarette.

At the same time as the sticky doughnut boxes were stacking up in hospital bins, an analysis of 99 countries by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US found that obesity is the biggest risk factor for death from Covid-19 in both the under-50s and those aged between 50 and 64. Everyone can be infected, it seems, but the severity of our reaction depends on our metabolic and gut health, both of which are actively undermined by an ultra-processed food diet.

So here’s the critical public health message our government should be broadcasting. Obesity, overwhelmingly the consequence of poor diet, is a red flag for a severe response to Covid-19. If we eat a diet of ultra-processed junk it sets us up for underlying ill health, a weakness that the virus will be only too happy to exploit.

Unfortunately, over 50% of the food we eat in the UK is ultra-processed, a state of affairs that no government has challenged. It’s been easier to allow the nation’s lamentable eating habits to pass as ‘normal’, even though they’re killing us.

Why are hospital administrators letting themselves be used to legitimise products that are the antithesis of life-sustaining? These companies drop off their products with cloying messages. “A thank you meal as a small token of our appreciation” was McDonald’s gem. But these brands are taking the mick. As one doctor put it: “Please find a better way to support us or do nothing at all.”