A siege mentality grips the public narrative around Covid-19: we’re told to limit human contact until the cavalry turns up bearing vaccines. This approach isn’t sustainable long-term, either for our economy or collective wellbeing.
Obviously for more vulnerable people with underlying medical conditions, extreme caution is natural. They may want to stay put – but society as a whole can’t hide away for ever. This virus, like others before it, is here to stay. We must learn to live with it.
So what can we do to improve our chances if we get it?
Boris Johnson has flagged up the link between obesity and serious Covid-19 illness. Even mildly obese people have a 2.5 times greater risk of respiratory failure, and they are five times more likely to be admitted to an ICU. But the PM didn’t spell out the obvious practical action the majority of people can take to maintain a reasonable weight: stop eating ultra-processed foods.
Instead, he fell back on the usual obfuscation designed to placate powerful food and drink industry players, the old “count calories, move more” mantra that allows purveyors of assorted life-shortening products ample room for manoeuvre.
But junk foods, value-added convenience meals and soft drinks drive the obesity and related diseases that increase the likelihood of death from Covid-19. Heaven help us, this stuff now accounts for over half of what we eat in the UK.
National diets matter. Japan, for instance, fared better than most countries with the virus. One reason for this is that Japanese people have superior underlying metabolic health than us because they eat better. Meanwhile in countries like the US, UK and Brazil, where the population munches away on lucrative junk and struggles to do up its waistband, the casualties have stacked up.
Until Johnson opened up the coronavirus-obesity discussion, there was no official recognition that a good diet can reduce our Covid-19 risk. In a sane, wise world he’d spell that out more graphically with a simple “If you eat junk, you’ll get sick” message. Coronavirus has held our attention, but the underlying epidemic is chronic metabolic ill-health. Time for a new slogan: ’Eat real food. Save lives.’