By Cate Moriasi
Your body is equipped with systems that work together to enable proper body function. The immune system plays the role of defender, defending your body against intruders like the Corona virus responsible for the current COVID-19 pandemic. This virus has brought the importance of having a strong immune system to the attention of many since survival depends on the body’s ability to fight off the viral infection. Fortunately, this has been the case for most of the people who have been infected by the virus.
Even though the number of people who have died from COVID-19 is a small fraction of those who are infected, these statistics don’t ease the pain for the ones that have suffered loss. Learning more about this disease has made it possible to identify groups of people who are at increased risk of getting seriously sick or dying. People with underlying medical conditions including those with lifestyle-related (diet & exercise) chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and coronary heart disease made the list.
How these underlying conditions make the outcomes of COVID-19 infection worse, could be as simple as the viral infection overwhelming body systems that are already overwhelmed with the constant battling of the chronic disease. It could be that COVID-19 makes the specific chronic disease worse like it is suggested to worsen heart disease. Or it could be that these chronic diseases have already compromised the immune system such that it just cannot fight COVID-19. This seems to be one reason type 2 diabetes and obesity increase the risk of serious sickness and even death from COVID-19.
“Obesity is a complex disease involving an excessive amount of body fat.” Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the way your body metabolizes sugar, resulting either from reduced ability of the body to produce insulin or making the body resistant to the effects of insulin. Obesity causes defects in some immune cells in addition to increasing the risk for type 2 diabetes. And in the case of type 2 diabetes, high blood sugar weakens the immune system making it less able to fight off COVID-19.
These chronic diseases don’t develop overnight but over a life time. Little by little as you make your daily choices of what to eat and whether to exercise or not, you prevent or pave the way for these lifestyle-dependent diseases. As these diseases get established, your immune system suffers. This underscores the importance of you making choices that protect your immune system in order for it to defend you at a later date. The other name for type 2 diabetes, adult-onset diabetes, is becoming obsolete because there are increasing numbers of children developing type 2 diabetes, probably due to increasing obesity in children.
The aim of our chronic disease patrol efforts is to partner with caretakers to help children take charge of protecting their health starting at an early age and reduce the burden of chronic diseases later in life. To that end, we wrote and published a book, Atherosclerosis Attack, meant for middle schoolers. The Atherosclerosis Attack book allows children to discover for themselves through a story how their choices affect a real disease and what they can do about it. Learning and incorporating the information presented in our book early would allow kids to adopt lifestyles that would be helpful in preventing not only atherosclerosis and associated heart issues but also other lifestyle- dependent chronic conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Bottom line is, taking care of your immune system is a lifetime job. It begins with you as it is your decision on what foods will be available for your child. Unfortunately, as they grow older and more opinionated, it becomes harder to make them eat or do what you know is good for them. You still care that they are healthy, but day after day you are faced with endless breakfast, lunch or dinner negotiations and constant reminders to your child to put away the electronics and get moving. Our book can help you. So give that child you care about an opportunity to really understand the impact of their daily lifestyle choices in a FUN way. Buy them a copy of Atherosclerosis Attack, work through it with them, so you are on the same page, and experience the power of useful knowledge. See what a parent/reviewer writes about the book.