As the NY Times recently reported, obesity is the leading cause of mortality in the United States. Obesity costs the nation $1.72 trillion every year. In the United States, where at least 4.6 million people have been infected and over 165,000 have died, the promise of a vaccine is hampered by a vexing epidemic that long preceded Covid-19: obesity.
More than 107 million American adults are obese, and their ability to return safely to work, care for their families and resume daily life could be curtailed if the coronavirus vaccine delivers weak immunity for them.
Obesity has long been known to be a significant risk factor for death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. But scientists in the emerging field of immunometabolism are finding obesity also interferes with the body’s immune response, putting obese people at greater risk of infection from pathogens such as influenza and the novel coronavirus.
Evidence that obese people have a blunted response to common vaccines was first observed in 1985 when obese hospital employees who received the hepatitis B vaccine showed a significant decline in protection 11 months later that was not observed in non-obese employees. The finding was replicated in a follow-up study that used longer needles to ensure the vaccine was injected into muscle and not fat.
“Obesity is a serious global problem, and the suboptimal vaccine-induced immune responses observed in the obese population cannot be ignored,” pleaded researchers from the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group in a 2015 study published in the journal Vaccine.
And it’s getting worse
Less than half of American adolescents are aerobically fit — about 40 percent, according to a new report from the American Heart Association. These young people have what is known, in medical terms, as good cardiorespiratory fitness, referring to the body’s ability to supply oxygen to muscles to produce energy during physical activity.
The AHA report says that cardiorespiratory fitness is a key indicator of physical fitness and overall health, and that aerobically fit youths will probably have longer, healthier lives. The 60 percent of adolescents who lack healthy cardiorespiratory fitness — which the AHA says is half of boys and two-thirds of girls ages 12 to 15 — are at higher risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.
An analysis is predicting that by 2030, 48.9% of adults in the United States will be obese and 24.2% will be severely obese.
What this means in real terms is that a lot of money is going to be needed for healthcare and that our reliance on nonprescription drugs is going to increase in lieu of exercising and eating healthy.
To date the AMA, insurers, pharma and physicians have done very little to fight the obesity epidemic. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy but what I am saying is that unless we try different approaches healthcare costs in this country are unsustainable.