It has seemed like a long and chaotic year has passed since 2019, and the further away that lost year gets, the more heartbreaking the still spoken sentiment becomes. Almost everyone has been affected in some way by the Coronavirus, even if it is just the perceived drudge of time that it and the resulting panic created. However, some of these effects have been positive. Many countries have recorded an uptick in concern for public health and new precedents for how various sizes of social structures (national, state/providence, city, town, etc.) respond to health crises. However, as many studies have shown, personal health has taken a steep downturn since the advent of COVID in most cases; of particular concern are obesity, diet, and heart health. So, while general public health has improved, individual personal health has declined. Both have broader implications for how we perceive the Coronavirus for the remainder of the pandemic and after.
While an increased awareness and care for public health and safety are wonderful for long term problems and future potential outbreak scenarios, personal health can be a much more complicated short term problem; particularly for those with other pre-existing conditions that may put them at increased risk of permanent damage from the Coronavirus. Heart, lung, and diet-related health (such as stomach, kidney, liver, digestive tract, etc.) all present significant risk of increased or potentially lethal symptoms of the Coronavirus as well as increased risk of any or worse long term side-effects post recovery. This makes the decreased personal health of many American’s concerning, but why is it happening?
It would be easy to simply say that the cause of these increased personal health risks is the Coronavirus. But studies—namely a study on adult obesity conducted by Trust for America’s Health—show more nuanced answers. Much of what causes these states of poor health relate to diet, and the average person’s diet has seen fluctuation and significant change during the last year and a half. Food shortages and lack of availability of various staples from stores, increased poverty and unemployment, and other sources of food insecurity all impact the diet of the average American; particularly those already at risk of poverty or that subsist on minimal income. Food scarcity often leads to binging, as uncertainty as to when one will get their next meal or the quality of future meals can lead to individuals partaking of food that they have on hand in large quantities to avoid waste.
Binge eating, unstable eating schedules, unbalanced diets, and so on—which result from these dietary concerns—are all cause for concern. They can lead to rapid weight gain, poor heart health, and even depression in some cases. Also concerning is the food dependency of children, as low income families often depend on public school programs to feed their children when they can’t. When pressed, parents will often opt to feed their children rather than themselves in these cases where food and financial resources are scarce, which leads to further personal health concern—as malnourishment results in a compromised immune system and further risk of damage due to Coronavirus.
These risks and the broader issues behind them are hard to address. Food shortages are often not the fault of the producers, but the consumers of food staples. Hoarding, financial instability, and lack of unified government response to the pandemic all have their part in the decline in personal health. The health of individuals builds up the health of communities, cities, regions, and countries. And while it would be easy to say that the responsibility lies on the individual to care for themselves and their family, the number of people struggling calls for broader reaching reform, as suggested by Trust for America’s Health in the conclusion of their 2020 obesity study.
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