The Death of Casagemas

Un-Fake News: Deaths Up by 20 Percent

On a recent visit to our least favorite dentist, with a mouth full of cotton, we heard this: “People die all the time. This coronavirus thing is not such a big deal.” A new report in JAMA, tells us just how wrong she was. Deaths indeed do happen all the time. But from March to July, the deaths in the U.S. jumped up by 20 percent. This is due to the pandemic. No ifs, ands, or buts.

So frankly, we have no use for that dentist – or anyone else who wants to declare that the coronavirus is not so bad. Or a “blessing from God.” We prefer reality. And we prefer to follow people who can deal with it.

Direct and Indirect Effects

One thread of the denial narrative has a grain of truth buried deep within it. This is the line about how our response to the pandemic can cause even more deaths. The new report tells us that the coronavirus is the direct cause of death in two-thirds of the excess deaths. The other third comes from knock-on effects.

Three months ago, we reported that deaths from heart disease, strokes, and diabetes were up sharply during the pandemic. People have been unwisely delaying care for chronic diseases. This extreme is the opposite of denialism: paralysis by fear. Chronic diseases – including obesity – need chronic care. Delaying care has deadly consequences. We certainly don’t need to live in fear, we simply need to deal with reality. So get the care you need – now.

The Big O: One Reason the U.S. Is Suffering More Deaths

At this point, none of this news about excess deaths due to the pandemic in the U.S. should be a surprise. The United States has one of the highest mortality rates in the world from COVID-19. Politicians are busy trying to argue how much of that can be pinned on our leadership. We’ll leave that argument to them.

But part of the picture is surely our world-leading rates of obesity and overweight. Both of these conditions contribute to the risk for bad outcomes with COVID-19.

Obesity is one of those chronic diseases that requires attention if you want to enjoy good health. As the new Canadian guidelines for obesity care explain so well, it’s not all about weight. But it is about good medical care for a chronic disease that can have deadly consequences if we ignore it.

In the coronavirus pandemic, we are finding out just how deadly that neglect can be.

Click here and here for the research on COVID mortality in JAMA, and then here, here, here, here, and here for commentaries in JAMA about the research. Also, JAMA Internal Medicine has a related study here. For further reporting, click here.

The Death of Casagemas, painting by Pablo Picasso / WikiArt

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


October 13, 2020

3 Responses to “Un-Fake News: Deaths Up by 20 Percent”

  1. October 13, 2020 at 9:57 am, Richard Atkinson said:

    There is a great deal that we don’t know about Covid-19. Likely some of the deaths attributed to Covid were in people who would have died anyway, plus Covid may have sped up the death of others who were destined to die shortly. There is no doubt about the age effect. The CDC says that 92% of deaths occur in those over 55. A fascinating fact about the graph above is that 7 of 10 countries with the highest Covid death rate per 100,000 population were Hispanic countries. On the other hand, Asian countries had low to quite low death rates. This argues for some significant genetic factors, plus likely some cultural effects as well. CDC numbers show about a 4-5 fold higher death rate in Blacks and Hispanics in the US. Obesity is higher in these racial groups, but meta-analyses of the obesity-Covid association don’t show a huge increase in deaths with obesity, and much of the increase is in severe obesity (BMI > 40).

    • October 13, 2020 at 11:37 am, Ted said:

      “Likely some of the deaths attributed to COVID were in people who would have died anyway.”

      This statement can mean many things, including a reference to the fact that everyone dies. Eventually. However, I’m not aware of a credible argument that the 20% increase in deaths that we’ve seen during the pandemic would have occurred if this new coronavirus had not emerged.

  2. October 13, 2020 at 1:04 pm, David Brown said:

    It’s likely that meat and culinary oil intake have an impact on COVID-19 mortality. In recent decades the linoleic acid content of culinary fats and grain-fed livestock has boosted the linoleic acid in fat stores to excessive levels in much of humanity. “Linoleic and oleic acid are the two most abundant UFAs in the human body, and linoleic acid has increased to now comprise more than 20% of our stored fat…It is the UFA component in obesity that determines the degree of harm in the event of acute lipolysis as in severe COVID-19 or acute pancreatitis. A larger proportion of UFA accumulation in adipose fat — even when the overall fat amount is lower, as in a leaner person — may be more harmful during acute lipolysis than a greater proportion of saturated fat.”