COVID-19 has shown us that Americans are sicker than we thought

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The current news cycles concerning COVID-19 today are frightening. The media has portrayed COVID-19 as an amazingly deadly virus. And to some people, that is very true. But not to about 98% of those who are COVID-19 positive. The death rates still hover around 2%, and that is only out of the known – testing positive – cases.  But who is the most vulnerable? If you read the news, this virus is seen to be branching out from mainly those over 65 years old, the immunocompromised, and those with known medical comorbidities. We’re now reading about seemingly healthy young people that are succumbing to COVID-19 and not leaving the hospitals.

I am a family nurse practitioner for over 15 years, and I have practiced mainly in internal medicine, cardiology, and endocrinology. I am nationally certified in diabetes care and education and sit on a national certification board. I researched lifestyle modifications and diabetes prevention at Stony Brook University for my doctorate degree. I have published articles in peer-reviewed journals, and most of my career has been spent studying Functional Medicine and disease prevention. It is safe to say I know a lot about health promotion.

I do believe that one of the main reasons that COVID-19 is blowing through the United States of America at lightning speed is because many seemingly healthy Americans are not as healthy as they think. According to the CDC 2017-2018, Adult obesity had reached 42.4% of Americans, and severely obese accounts for 9.2%. It is predicted that in 2020, 83% of men and 72% of women will be overweight or obese. (That’s 7 or 8 out of every 10.) In an article published in December 2019, the NEJM predicted that 1 in 2 Americans (50%) will be in the obese category by 2030 (not including those considered overweight), and 1 in 4 (25%) will be in the severely obese category. If you truly understand obesity, you must understand that this is a hyper-inflammatory state of sickness, regardless of what blood sugar and other lab results reveal.

Living in a chronic state of obesity is a dangerous metabolic state, regardless of lab results. It is almost always associated with elevated insulin levels resulting in insulin resistance. It is that very insulin resistance that destroys health. The human body was never meant to live in chronic hyperinsulinemia. Americans often indulge in a diet high in sugar and simple carbohydrates, which is the backbone of the Standard American Diet (SAD). When consuming a lot of sugars and carbs, blood sugar rises. Subsequently, insulin level rise, and often remain elevated for many hours, only to have the cycle repeat again with the next meal. Think of sugar as little shards of glass and insulin as little Brillo pads, and now you can understand how damage happens inside our arteries, linking even just prediabetes with the advent of cardiovascular damage.

As of 2018 (the most recent data), the CDC reports 13% of American adults now have diabetes (most have Type 2 Diabetes) with some parts of the U.S. up to 33% of adults. It is sad, but 7.3 million of these Americans don’t even know they have diabetes. Even more important data to understand is that prediabetes is believed to now affect 88 million American adults as of 2018, and about 90% don’t know it. Why is this dreaded disease not being diagnosed? That’s an entirely different article that I can write at a later time.

Since obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease consume so many health care dollars and are so prevalent among Americans, is it any wonder that COVID-19 is killing seemingly healthy people of all ages? Folks, it is our American lifestyle (which says, “you can’t tell me what to eat!) that is killing us. Perhaps this is the wakeup call that we need (however sad that may be) to get us to pay attention to how we live our lives, what we eat, how much of it we eat, and how we handle the stresses of life. Don’t even get me started on how we don’t sleep well or enough! Again, another article.

I hope that when COVID-19 is a distant memory, that many Americans, guided by their health care providers, will pay more attention to how we live our lives. As stated by Hippocrates all those years ago, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” let’s get back to the basics of a healthy society.

Chrystyne Olivieri is a nurse practitioner.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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