An Epidemic Response

I logged into my work e-mail and glanced over the dozens of new messages that had appeared in my “Inbox” overnight. One message in particular caught my eye. The sender was our internal COVID-19 task force. I double-clicked, took a sip of coffee and began to read. In short order, I discovered the new requirement to continue employment for US-Based employees was full vaccination against COVID-19. By all accounts, this mandate has been pushed down to all US-based companies by those in Washington who are considered to be our “leaders”.

COVID-19 Vaccine now a requirement for employment. What other health requirements could or should follow?

I know there is a lot of contreversy around vaccines and forced vaccination. Everyone has their opinion. For me personally, the vaccination wasn’t a big deal. I don’t buy into the government conspiracy theories nor do I believe anyone will grow a second head or see their life shortened because of the vaccine. Like the influenza vaccine, at worst, the COVID-19 vaccine simply won’t be effective. That said, I don’t think anything people do to their bodies should be mandated. And who knew you can’t get COVID-19 if you work for a company of less than 100 people?

“I promised to end COVID-19 during my campaign and you will get vaccinated or else!”

It is a little scary that the President, or Congress or anyone besides your employer can determine who does and doesn’t work for them but there are a lot of people who live with the quaint and naive notion that the government exists to help us and do the right thing. Most of those same people believe this new mandate and followup by US-based companies was the right way to go. I wonder how these same people would feel if we reworded that mandate to handle a much longer-term and more dangerous epidemic? For example . .

Employees . .

As a community leader, we are obligated to do everything we can to improve the health and safety of everyone we touch. That includes our employees, and our customers. 

Anti-obesity requirement for U.S.-based employees

Our company will require all of its employees based in the U.S. to maintain a healthy BMI by June 1, 2022. To meet this deadline, U.S.-based employees must begin logging daily nutritional intake, and exercise. If you have not already done so, please create your MyFitnessPal account and link it to your employee profile in your HR settings. These logs will be regularly reviewed by certified nutritionists and personal trainers to verify your efforts at becoming more healthy.

To support this effort, all vending, food, snack, and drink products with more than 5 grams of added sugar will be removed from cafeteria and vending areas. Cafeteria menus will be vetted by a professional nutritionist and those foods providing the least nutritional value with the most calories will be eliminated. Lastly, employees are prohibited from bringing sugar-based snacks and drinks into the office for personal consumption or sales. This includes but is not limited to soda, candy, cookies, donuts, cake, pie, or any other bakery items containing more than 5 grams of added sugar. Employees found in continued violation of this policy will be terminated. 

Ridiculous right? No US company would ever do this and people would find it offensive. Yet we seem okay the argument for required COVID-19 vaccinations for our safety and well being and contributing to the greater health of the nation in combatting a pandemic. Well, guess what? COVID-19 is a mere baby compared to the obesity epidemic that has plagued the United States (and many other parts of the world) for decades. 

Let’s look at some obesity related numbers. According to the CDC some 42% of Americans are obese. The same source tells us that obesity and severe obesity has increased dramatically from the early 2000s through 2018. This despite an abundance of knowledge of how unhealthy being obese is. 

Obesity6

In 1995, obesity was estimated to cost the US Economy about $99.2 billion, approximately $51.6 billion in direct costs and $47.6 billion in indirect costs. That was 26 years ago. As mentioned previously we have been working hard on building our ponderous bellies since then. I suspect medical costs for obesity related illness is probably well over $200 billion a year by now. 

One of the big arguments for forced vaccinations for COVID-19 is to alleviate the on-going pressure on our medical system from so many sick patients needing ICU/CCU type of care. Really!? Here is a short list of medical conditions associated with obesity again sourced from CDC documents:

  • All-causes of death (mortality)
  • High blood pressure (Hypertension)
  • High LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides (Dyslipidemia)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Osteoarthritis (a breakdown of cartilage and bone within a joint)
  • Sleep apnea and breathing problems
  • Many types of cancer
  • Low quality of life
  • Mental illness such as clinical depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders4,5
  • Body pain and difficulty with physical functioning

That list was really hard to find because guess what one of the biggest co-morbidities to COVID-19 is? (Hint: It isn’t too much exercise.)  

Let’s talk about the biggest number of all. COVID-19 has been involved with the death of about 680,000 Americans so far. Note that this is the sensationalized number presented by the popular media as “deaths from COVID-19” but the waters and facts are far more muddy than that. I encourage you to down a really caffeinated, sugar-free drink and give the CDC documents regarding deaths from COVID-19 the once-over. Bear in mind there are few deaths that are just from COVID-19. Certainly many of the people who died would probably not have died if they didn’t contract COVID-19. Or at least not have died in the same timeframe. 

An excerpt from the CDC page quoted above.

Identifying death from obesity offers similar difficulties to identifying death from COVID-19 with many complicating factors. However, we’ve dealt with obesity for much longer than COVID-19 and have far more science behind the numbers. In the US, there are about 300,000 preventable deaths each year from obesity. This is the second highest number of preventable deaths behind tobacco use. Over a quarter million people die from being fat! For arguments sake, let’s go with the popular media value of 680,000 US deaths from COVID-19 beginning January 2020. In that same time period (18 months), 450,000 Americans died preventable deaths caused by obesity. And of course, how many of the 680,000 COVID-19 related deaths were directly related to obesity?

If our employers have free reign to make decisions about our healthcare and what we do and don’t put in our bodies, it is not out of the realm of possibilities for them to start dictating what we do and don’t eat during the workday. After all, employees are expensive and company-paid health benefit costs are directly related to how healthy or sickly employees are. We’ve already seen the banishment of smoking from just about all workplaces. In fact, many companies have completely banned smoking from their property. But sugary, unhealthy foods? They can’t do that can they?

It turns out the precedent has been set. The University of California San Francisco banned the sale of all sugary drinks from their facilities. They didn’t go so far as a ban on employee imports but they did coordinate a medical study along with the ban to test effectiveness and it turns out the ban on sugary drink sales worked. Some 214 employees showed great improvements in reducing consumed sugar and improved health indicators. Go figure!

I wonder how many people who are worried about dying from COVID-19 continue to down this garbage every day?

Returning to my employer for a moment, they are known as a health-conscious company. Traditionally, on-site cafeterias have offered reasonably healthy options. They have also always encouraged exercise, movement, stretching, and generally healthy lifestyles. We have in-house wellness coaches and gyms. Unfortunately, with COVID-19 we’ve taken a bit of a step backwards on the food front. Understandably, as we’ve moved to a more virtual workplace some cafeterias have been shuttered on certain campuses in lieu of vending areas. The general problem with vending areas, is you can not put a lot of healthy choices in them. It is noteworthy that things like granola bars, often touted as healthy, are really nothing more than an elongated cookie. There certainly won’t be fresh fruit or vegetables available. For a company now dictating health requirements, it is a bit of a conundrum. It will be up to employees to make healthy eating choices and bring food from home that isn’t laden with unneeded sugar.

Few office vending areas are able to offer anything truly considered healthy. I wonder if scanning your vaccination card will be required to buy a Snickers?

Like COVID-19, obesity is a global problem. Worldwide 2.8 million people die each year from being fat. That’s 2.8 million deaths that are totally preventable. Think about that. We can’t fully control things like viruses and other disease causing agents but we can control our forks and whether we choose to veg out in front of the television or get up and go for a walk.

Yet when it comes to poor eating habits or exercising everyone laughs it off with a joke or excuse.

  • “It’s the weekend. I’ll eat right Monday through Friday.”
  • “I’m on vacation, I’m not going to worry about what I eat and I’m just going to relax.”
  • “Work is so stressful I over-eat and don’t have time to exercise.”
  • “It’s the holidays.”
  • “It’s Wednesday.”

The jokes and excuses continue. Nobody makes jokes about having COVID-19 but all of us are far more likely to die from being fat. And it’s preventable. Check out some of the incentives to get vaccinated in this article. One could get free donuts, beer, and hot dogs for getting vaccinated. Really!? How American. Here are a couple pictures that provide some food for thought. This is like smokers worrying about whether nicotine gum is safe to chew . .

I’d rather get a mystery drug injected in my arm with a dirty needle than eat anything at McDonald’s.
Why not a free apple? Or 3 lbs. of fresh vegetables?

Look . . I know the world is COVID-19 crazy but let’s just keep a bit grounded in what we allow our elected officials and our companies tell us we can and can’t do. But more to the point, worry about the aspects of your life you can control. And I’m not asking that as a perfect eating/exercising machine either but rather one who used to fall into the very obese category and did something about it. Believe me when I say there was no bigger couch potato than me. If I can do it anyone can.

Me some 80 lbs. and a few years ago.
You don’t have to start running marathons to lose the belly but life is more fun without the extra weight

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