UK Lockdown (3) Day 1

Blaming Obesity for Britain’s COVID Deaths

“It’s hard to compute the sorrow contained in that grim statistic,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The UK became the smallest country in the world yesterday to surpass 100,000 deaths due to COVID-19. Not surprisingly, the conversation turned to a simple question. Why? Ever ready with a fat-phobic quip, Piers Morgan seemed eager to blame obesity for Britain’s COVID deaths:

“Are you saying that the reason for us having the worst death rate in the world is because of the public? They’re too old and they’re too fat?”

He was interviewing Secretary Thérèse Coffey. She had mentioned obesity and age as only two of “a variety of reasons” for yesterday’s dire milestone.

Blame Is Not a Strategy for Health

We understand the impulse to blame people for whatever misfortune they might suffer. Morgan is ever ready to point his finger at larger people as a public health threat – simply for being visible. But blame and shame are lousy tools for promoting health. An editorial in Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology summed it up quite well:

“The COVID-19 culture has become a blame culture. The obesity rates in England are concerning, but they are not the main culprit for the nation’s high COVID-19 death toll. Let’s not forget that people with obesity are vulnerable patients too.”

Discernment and Healing

The urge to blame is ancient. So is the recognition that it is a mistake. Biblical scriptures, for example, call out this error:

“Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, ‘Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?’

“Jesus said, ‘You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here.’”

From there, the story turns to the miracle of healing.

Science is all about discernment in a complex world. It’s important to figure out what is contributing to an alarming death rate in the UK – and for that matter, here in America. As Coffey was trying to explain, many factors are part of it. Baseline health status and age certainly play a role.

Blame Is a Distraction

But public health and healthcare must not stop there. The value of discernment is to point the way for practical solutions for healing. Care for individuals, along with prevention of further deaths and suffering, is what we want.

Blame is a distraction from the real goal of better health. This is an ancient observation that we too seldom take to heart.

Click here and here for more on COVID deaths in the UK. For the Lancet editorial, click here.

UK Lockdown (3) Day 1, photograph © Neil Moralee / flickr

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January 27, 2021