Just a few days later Boris Johnson gave a speech at a Conservative Party conference alludes to his campaign against obesity with a personal vein: “I had a very common underlying disease: friends, I was overweight.” The Prime Minister also mentioned that he has lost 26 kilograms since then. He further outlined a vision for the future of Britain that included a healthier population, with more cycling and walking.
The U.S. government has still not raised the alarm about the link between widespread metabolic disease and increased risk. It was never part of the White House’s messages about the virus and the set of policies needed to respond to the crisis – something that didn’t change when President Joe Biden took over.
“It’s not at all central to the debate,” said Dan Glickman, who was during the Clinton administration as Secretary of Agriculture and is now a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Glickman noted that the country’s leading voices on the coronavirus, including Anthony Fauci, do not focus on the underlying situation and what could be done about it in the long run. Instead, the focus is solely on vaccines that have been shown to be safe and effective.
“They almost never talk about prevention,” Glickman said. “Missing. This is a huge gap in the debate about how healthcare is linked to Covid and how it is linked to disease prevention. “
As the pandemic approaches its third year, the link to diet-related diseases and the general vulnerability of the U.S. population is a topic that is still lacking at the highest levels of government. The only senior Biden administration official who routinely talks about the issue is Agriculture Minister Tom Vilsack – and he mentions it often.
For example, Vilsack, who is holding the role for the second time in eight years during the Obama administration, likes to point out in his speeches, for example, that the government now spends more on diabetes than the entire USDA budget of about $ 150. billion.
In an interview with POLITICA, Vilsack noted that more than half of the $ 380 billion a year spent on treating cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes alone is now collected by the government, including through programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
“Ironically, if we could eliminate those costs, we could afford a $ 3.5 trillion Build Back Better [without pay-fors],” he said.
“This is an important issue that requires a raise,” Vilsack said. “We’re moving dials that can be moved to the USDA. But I think more is needed than that. I think more departments are needed to focus on that, and more leaders are saying that this is an issue that requires some attention. “
Even addressing diet-related illnesses did not come first in Congress. For example, there is bipartisan law require Medicare to cover medications and several types of specialists to help treat obesity. The legislation has been introduced several times since 2013, when the American Medical Association officially recognized obesity as a disease, but has not received much attention, even when the main bills to help Covid passed to Congress.
Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School who is a key advocate for the bill, said the pandemic has sparked much more interest among lawmakers and staff, but has not yet transposed into legislative action.
One of the biggest challenges, she said, is that most people still do not understand that obesity is a complex disease, not something that can be blamed or corrected by personal decisions, and often requires multidisciplinary treatment to which many people do not have access. . .
“We’re not taught about obesity,” Stanford said, citing a lack of education in medical schools. “If doctors don’t understand obesity, why would the general public? Why would policymakers? “
Last month, the government’s accountability office published a report on the state of the country’s response to diet-related diseasess, concluding that efforts are scattered throughout the federal government, but that there is not enough coordination or a comprehensive plan.
“Congress should consider identifying and guiding a federal entity to lead the development and implementation of a federal strategy for nutrition efforts aimed at reducing the risk of chronic health problems in Americans,” GAO recommends.
Jerold Mande, a professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and a fellow at Tufts University who has served senior positions at the FDA and USDA in the HW Bush, Clinton and Obama administrations, said the report should be reviewed. . “We don’t mean it,” he said. “You look at the GAO report and conclude that we’re not serious.”
GAO has identified only six “regulatory” measures taken by the government to combat diet-related diseases, but these policies are “mostly educational,” Mande noted, citing the Nutrition Facts label, which he helped shape and launch among the HW Bush administration. .