Unhealthy food and social disparities are allies of COVID-19

Unhealthy food and social disparities are allies of COVID-19

November 27, 2020

Unhealthy food and social disparities are allies of COVID-19 Several studies show that people who live in poor socio-economic conditions and lack access to healthy food are more likely to experience severe forms of COVID-19. In the current COVID-19 pan

Several studies show that people who live in poor socio-economic conditions and lack access to healthy food are more likely to experience severe forms of COVID-19.  



In the current COVID-19 pandemic, the intersection between communicable and non-communicable diseases has given rise to a real health emergency. And food and socio-economic differences play a major role in determining the outcomes of the new coronavirus infection. These findings are reported in a commentary article recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine by a group of experts led by Matthew Belanger of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston. 

“In the United States, some minority groups – Black, Latinx, and Native American communities – are experiencing worse outcomes from the SARS-CoV-2 infection in terms of the number of infections, hospital admissions and deaths,” explain the researchers, pointing out that similar data have been recorded in other countries where minorities struggle to access health, educational and social services and healthy food.


Social inequalities, health differences

As reported in the article, the proportion of people with an unhealthy diet fell from 55.9% to 45.6% between 1999 and 2012, but disparities in nutrition based on race/ethnicity, income and education worsened. These nutritional differences are therefore driven by socioeconomic and environmental disadvantages that have historically beset minorities more than others. For example, food insecurity affects approximately 11% of U.S. households but is more common in Black, Latinx, and Native American households,” say Belanger et al. “People experiencing food insecurity predominantly have access to low-cost, processes and high calorie food,” they add, pointing out that this is one of the major factors in people’s body-mass index “The prevalence of obesity among U.S. adults is 42.4%, but higher among Black (49.6%), Native American (48.1%), and Latinx (44.8%) communities,” they explain. 

This triggers a vicious circle that starts from the so-called social determinants of health: from racial discrimination to difficulties accessing healthy food, from the physical environment to socio-economic status. All these disadvantages often translate into higher rates of obesity and chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension, which in turn are risk factors for serious COVID-19 outcomes.

Sustainable health through food as well

The COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the importance of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Even with the coronavirus pandemix, in fact, guaranteeing access to healthy food and food security (goal 2) and overcoming inequalities (goals 1, 4, 8 and 10) are the two cornerstones for achieving health and well-being for all (goal 3). “The current crisis warrants creation of a national organization dedicated to addressing COVID-19 racial and ethnic health disparities, to elucidate the challenges and mobilize necessary resources,” the authors comment. According to the American College of Physicians, a multidisciplinary approach to addressing the social determinants of health is necessary in order to achieve real change.

The recognition of these disparities offers an opportunity to rise to the public health challenge of health inequity and to unite in a vision for a more healthy, just, and equitable nation,” the experts conclude.


Find out more about Food and health

This website uses profiling cookies, including third-party ones, to send you advertising and offer you services which reflect the preferences you have shown during browsing. If you continue to browse the website by accessing any area or selecting any element of it (such as an image or a link), you consent to use of cookies.
Click on the following link to view our extended cookie policy, which provides a description of the categories present and the links with the personal data policies of the third-party processors. You can also decide which cookies to authorise or whether to deny consent for all or only certain cookies.   Continues