US Stays Mum About Diet's Effect on Getting COVID

Government lacks a strategy, or even a public stance, on the problem as obesity worsens
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 7, 2021 12:40 PM CST
Nations Act on Diet-COVID Ties, but not the US
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, shown in Glasgow last week, took action personally and politically after contracting COVID-19.   (Steve Reigate /Pool Photo via AP)

Other nations have acted during the pandemic to counter the increased risk of contracting COVID caused by diet-related conditions such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. Prime Minister Boris Johnson's moves have received attention, but it's not just Britain, Politico reports. Chile has slapped warning labels on foods with high levels of salt, sugar, and fat, and prohibited marketing them to children. Making the link to the pandemic, Mexican states last year began prohibiting the sale of sugary drinks and highly processed foods to anyone under 18, per the Washington Post.

But it's been crickets about the connection from the US government. "Nobody is doing anything about this. Nobody is saying this has to stop," said Marion Nestle, a New York University expert on food policy. There's no federal strategy on the issue, though experts mostly agree now that obesity isn't caused by a lack of willpower, but by stress, a lack of sufficient sleep, a sedentary lifestyle, and a food system seemingly built to deliver empty calories. And obesity has only increased in the US during the pandemic, per NPR. Close to three-fourths of adults are overweight or have obesity, and about one in five children have obesity.

Johnson made the connection after he was hospitalized with COVID-19, saying, "I was way overweight." He then formed a broad strategy to combat obesity, including banning TV commercials for junk food before 9pm, requiring calories be listed in restaurants, and making stores display heathier foods near checkout lines. And he started jogging every day. The food industry in the US braced for government pressure earlier in the pandemic, but nothing happened. "If you're going to do anything about it, you have to take on the food industry, which no one wants to do," Nestle said. An industry consultant said: "Globally, these issues are on fire. In the US, we're like sucking our thumb." (More COVID-19 stories.)

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