America wasn’t ready for a pandemic when the first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus landed on U.S. shores in January 2020, especially in terms of overall health.
The national stockpile of medical supplies was full of outdated and expired equipment. Early testing was a fiasco, and medical supply chains remained dependent on foreign sources all while lawmakers on Capitol Hill were preoccupied with their impeachment of President Donald Trump over a made-up scandal. Worst of all, however, was the state of the nation’s physical health to combat an inflammatory virus that would wipe out more than 1 million residents over the next two years.
A pair of studies published in recent weeks revealed just how vulnerable Americans were to a new disease that infected more than a third of a population, which already had such a low level of baseline health.
In late June, researchers at the American Heart Association found that just 1 in 5 U.S. residents has “optimal heart health” based on the association’s standards, which are mapped out by its “Life’s Essential 8” cardiovascular scoring.
The essential eight components of cardiovascular health as defined by the American Heart Association include “healthy diet, participation in physical activity, avoidance of nicotine, healthy sleep, healthy weight, and healthy levels of blood lipids, blood glucose, and blood pressure.”
Published in “Circulation,” the association’s flagship journal, the authors studied more than 23,400 adults and children through national health surveys from 2013 to 2018, offering a snapshot into the nation’s heart health over the years preceding the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Only about 20 percent of the population across age groups was found to have ideal cardiovascular health based on the association’s essential eight standards.
Another study from Tufts University published on Monday revealed even less: 1 in 7 U.S. adults enjoyed “good cardiometabolic health,” according to data dating up to 2018, just two years before the coronavirus pandemic.
University researchers studied five components of health of about 55,000 adults 20 years old and older from 1999 to 2018, including blood pressure levels, blood sugar, blood cholesterol, adiposity (overweight and obesity), and the presence or absence of cardiovascular disease such as a heart attack or stroke. The figures were drawn from the 10 most recent cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, where the authors found severe declines in the nation’s health over nearly 20 years. While just 1 in 3 adults lived at an appropriate weight, that number declined to 1 in 4 by 2018. Adults with diabetes or prediabetes also climbed. In 1999, only 3 in 5 reported being free of the condition, but in 2018, only 4 in 10 said the same.
“These numbers are striking. It’s deeply problematic that in the United States, one of the wealthiest nations in the world, fewer than 1 in 15 adults have optimal cardiometabolic health,” said Meghan O’Hearn, a doctoral candidate and the study’s lead author, in a press release. “We need a complete overhaul of our healthcare system, food system, and built environment, because this is a crisis for everyone, not just one segment of the population.”
Dr. Tim Logemann, a specialist in cardiology and obesity in Wisconsin, agreed with O’Hearn’s analysis and highlighted the nation’s rising weight as a primary concern because it underlies nearly every major health issue plaguing the country.
“Everybody from big agriculture to big food to big medicine and of course big politics is all in on the gig of the fattening of America,” Logemann told The Federalist, emphasizing an urgent need for a “grassroots movement towards health” to reverse course.
“It’s not just going to get better because there’s just no reason for it to get better,” Logemann added. “Even health care systems make a lot of money on treating the complications of obesity. I don’t see any end in sight.”
According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 42 percent of the entire country qualified as metabolically obese between 2017 and 2020, just before the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation. At least 67 percent of adults are considered, at minimum, overweight and are handing down bad habits to their children, nearly 20 percent of whom aged 2 to 19 are obese.
The nation’s obesity crisis is showing no signs of slowing down even as the consequences of excessive weight continue to accelerate. In 2021, diabetes deaths eclipsed a six-figure toll for the second year in a row. Obesity played a driving factor.
The number of states where more than a third of the population is considered obese jumped from 12 in 2019 to 16 in 2021, according to the CDC. Trends in obesity were only exacerbated by pandemic lockdowns, which incentivized sedentary lifestyles ostensibly to protect people from a virus that disproportionately killed Americans who were overweight.
This article has been updated to reflect CDC statistics show 67 percent, not 77 percent, of Americans are overweight based on the Body Mass Index (BMI).