Eat Healthier, Move More, Prevent COVID-19 Problems?

So simple. Dariush Mozaffarian has the answer for preventing problems with COVID-19. Eat healthier and move more. That’s it. According to him, the response to COVID-19, as impressive as it’s been, has been inadequate. He wants to know why governors aren’t telling everybody to exercise more every day and “eat a little bit healthier.” It would quite dramatic, he said:

We could, with sound policy, start to improve the country’s metabolic health within a few months.

It’s quite easy, he told WGBH. Just changing what you eat brings “dramatic improvements” in metabolic health in four to six weeks, he says. Take away problems with metabolic health and COVID-19 will be a much smaller problem. So simple.

But Seriously

The unfortunate thing about this simple solution is that we have no objective evidence it works in the real world. In fact, the government has indeed been telling people to “eat a little healthier” now for decades. In 1980, the government issued the first edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans. New editions come out every five years and these guidelines have far-reaching effects on food policy.

We also have Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. In other words, we have plenty of government advice to eat healthier and move more.

Yet, with all these this guidance, the nation’s metabolic health has not improved over the last four decades. In fact, it’s gotten worse. Over those four decades, obesity prevalence has soared.

Real Actions That Really Work

One of the truly impressive things we’ve learned from COVID-19 is that evidence-based public health policies really work. All around the world, some basic interventions had a dramatic effect on objective measures of public health. Objective data tells us that hand washing reduces the transmission of infectious diseases. We’ve seen that social distance, testing, and contact tracing have brought down infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Unmistakably.

On the other hand, telling people to eat healthier and move more has been the mainstay of obesity prevention for decades. It seems so simple. But it’s had no obvious effect, except that health claims have proved to be a great way to sell more food products. Also, the fitness market has boomed. All the while, obesity prevalence keeps soaring.

Thus, Mozaffarian’s claim is false. Improving the nation’s metabolic health is not the least bit simple. In fact, the record shows that we don’t know how to do it. So instead of such glib and false claims, we need more scientific curiosity about what will actually work. And we need to bring more objectivity to evaluating our options.

Click here for the interview with Mozaffarian.

Unsinn (Nonsense), photograph © XoMEoX / flickr

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June 13, 2020

One Response to “Eat Healthier, Move More, Prevent COVID-19 Problems?”

  1. June 13, 2020 at 9:55 am, Mary-Jo said:

    More like ‘so simplistic’. Even IF it was only down to ‘Move more, eat less or ‘healthier’(whatever that means), that alone is complicated. Even the environmental aspects of factors driving more wholesome eating are complex. A study I often think about by Egger and Swinburn on something they came up with called the ANGELO grid, really emphasized complexity of environmental influences on dietary intake to me (Dissecting Obesogenic Environments: The Development and Application of a Framework for Identifying and Prioritizing Environmental Interventions for Obesity). They are epidemiologists, describing, already in the 90’s, obesity as a pandemic, but as epidemiologists, didn’t address heritability, metabolic dysfunction, medical issues, or other possible drivers of the disease which FURTHER complicates it. It’s interesting to observe that the professional lens we come from to look at obesity, affects how we think it is best treated or prevented.