Bermuda’s health beyond Covid-19
I’ve been thinking lately about the incredibly radical changes that we’ve all got accustomed to over the last five months.
Social-distancing, masks, designated shopping days, hand sanitiser in every doorway, online meetings, happy hour on Zoom, contact-tracing, travel restrictions, not seeing our families.
We have literally turned things upside down to protect our lives and the lives of others. We have been prepared to accept a massive amount of sacrifice for the greater good and that in itself is an amazing thing. And yet have you started to wonder, why we’re prepared to do this for Covid-19, but we haven’t managed to co-ordinate ourselves to fend off preventable, chronic disease?
The truth is, that in Bermuda, over time, more people will die from preventable disease than they will from this pandemic (especially — let’s say — over ten years). Note, that in both 2017 and 2018, approximately 150 people in Bermuda died from circulatory disease alone. Now, not all circulatory disease is preventable, but estimates from even conservative sources indicate that up to 80 per cent of these deaths are due to lifestyle factors.
Covid-19, of course, presents a very different challenge. The problem is not so much the death rate, rather that hospitalisation might occur en masse, within a very tight time frame, overwhelming the hospital and the ability of medical professionals to cope. This is why “flattening the curve” is so important and rightly, remains a top priority.
But what if we poured the same funding, time, energy and sheer will, into resolving factors that contribute to chronic disease? Especially given that chronic disease also significantly increases mortality risk from Covid-19? We really could do it, couldn’t we? We could have a more well-thought-out and effective sugar-tax, better education for our children and crucially, a more supportive environment — no candy at checkouts, no advertising junk food to children, no sales or deals on junk items, subsidised fresh produce, better financial support for farms and healthy businesses … I could go on for ever. There’s so much we could do.
I guess there’s three major reasons why we’re so willing to move mountains for Covid-19. Firstly, the fear factor. We’re co-operating with strict rules as we’re afraid (let’s face it). We’re afraid because it’s new, relatively unknown and so far, largely untreatable. Secondly, the novelty of it all. We’re willing to do it for now. There’s an element of
drama that has us engaged. Thirdly, it’s effective. Wearing masks and social-distancing works. We’ve seen many countries curb infection spikes with careful policy and planning. So we get it!
Preventive protocols for chronic disease are effective, too. Wildly in fact. But chronic disease is not very frightening to the general population and it’s certainly not novel. The novelty issue is huge in my opinion. We’re co-operating with Covid-19 rules now, but imagine if we were trying to follow these same rules in five years time. Would we tolerate the sacrifice? Especially if it was just “recommended” and no longer mandatory? I’m pretty sure that in general, our fear and our attention will fade. And here we have a huge parallel, to our approach to chronic disease.
Let’s look at it this way. When someone receives bad blood work (maybe their LDL cholesterol is high) or they have a heart attack, the motivation to change unhealthy habits is high. The majority of people start to eat better and exercise more. There are countless medical professionals, charities and businesses in Bermuda that do an amazing job of helping people to run with this momentum. But a few years later, complacence kicks in.
Many of us are just so addicted to that magical combination of sugar, salt and saturated fat, that we find it hard to stay away from unhealthy options. And once the immediate threat is over, we lose the will to be “good” in the face of so much temptation.
This is why a supportive environment is so critical. Even though they are a major pain, it’s easy to follow Covid-19 rules because they are enforced everywhere we go. You have to wear a mask and you have to use sanitiser. You don’t feel conflicted about making a “good” or “bad” choice, because the choice is already made for you (for example, you don’t have to choose between going to a crowded restaurant and going to a well spaced out restaurant, because they’re all well spaced anyway!) It’s easy to comply.
The problem with chronic disease, is that although the preventive measures are massively effective, our environment just isn’t set up to encourage them. To a varying degree, it’s quite the opposite. This is where we have absolutely huge potential to change. Once Covid-19 is under control and the panic has subsided, I wonder if our government will use these lessons to take a new approach to this issue.
Our politicians have been impressive through this pandemic. Could they be this impressive again? Over to you.
• Catherine Burns is a qualified nutritional therapist. For more details: natural.bm, 505-4725, Natural Nutrition Bermuda on Facebook and @naturalbda on Instagram
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