Grasping Synergistic Pandemics: COVID-19 and Obesity

Complex PresentimentFrom the very early days COVID-19, we saw clues that two pandemics might be interacting – COVID-19 and obesity. But we are not fans of catastrophizing health problems. So the question becomes, how can we come to terms with these synergistic pandemics? Can we do it in a way that brings us closer to solutions? In a new commentary from the National Academy of Medicine, Peter Hovmand and colleagues describe the complex systems linking these two pandemics. The suggestion is that systems thinking provides tools for finding better solutions.

Biased Mental Models

Hovmand says biased mental models, stigma, and racism are interacting. They are influencing obesity care in the context of COVID-19. Thus the result is even less access to care. The pandemic has strained resources in healthcare. So during acute surges in the pandemic, heath systems treated bariatric surgery as elective and stopped it. But demand increased.

This disconnect comes from differences between policy makers and people living with obesity. Policy makers act on biased mental models. Their models are telling them obesity is a behavior. In contrast, people with obesity experience it as a reality of their physiology. In fact, that reality becomes more threatening because of the interaction between COVID-19 and obesity. Yet tools for dealing with it became less available in the pandemic.

Pressure Points

Hovmand tells us that the value of systems thinking is to identify pressure points for change. In this case, we have two pandemics working to produce more health disparities. But we have options for reducing that. Better access to care will help. Working against biased mental models can make it easier. More effective prevention strategies can create better long-term outcomes. The need to focus on these pressure points could hardly be clearer.

Click here for the new paper from the National Academy of Medicine. For more on systems thinking for obesity solutions, click here.

Complex Presentiment, painting by Kazimir Malevich / WikiArt

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


April 6, 2021