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Social inequalities and nutritional disparities place ethnic minorities at a greater risk of developing severe COVID-19 and chronic conditions.

National survey data show that, in 2015 29.5% of American adults were obese and 33.4% were overweight. Obesity increases one’s likelihood of developing debilitating chronic degenerative non-communicable diseases (CDNCDs), such as heart disease, diabetes, and several cancers. This condition may also decrease an individual’s quality of life and life expectancy while simultaneously increasing healthcare costs. It’s understood that obesity presents multiple challenges. However, one area that requires greater attention is the relationships between the social inequalities related to obesity, COVID-19, and CDNCDs.

An umbrella review study published in the peer-reviewed journal, European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, sought to understand the link between obesity and the COVID-19 pandemic to social inequalities and nutritional disparities. Researchers located articles published between 2008 and 2021 on PubMed using the search terms: “COVID-19”, “obesity,” “disparities,” “nutritional inequalities,” “chronic degenerative non-communicable diseases,” and “review” OR “systematic review” OR “meta-analysis.”

Out of 1874 reviews found, 92 studies met the inclusion criteria. The study revealed that Black, Latin, and Native American populations experience the most severe clinical effects of COVID-19. One explanation for this regarding African American adults, in particular, is that they have a higher prevalence of obesity. As a result, they are more prone to suffer from worse COVID-19 symptoms and more likely to require ICU hospitalization and mechanical ventilation.

The evidence-based literature divulged how nutritional disparities driven by socioeconomic, educational, and environmental disadvantages significantly affect vulnerable communities. Many ethnic minority groups can only access low-cost, energy-dense, processed foods that increase their risk of obesity and malnutrition. This detrimental combination of unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle increase one’s risk of severe COVID-19 and CDNCDs.

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This study showed that the spread of infectious communicable diseases and CDNCDs is enabled in situations of social disparity. However, health education programs can help reduce these disparities. Additionally, policies that address food insecurity issues can assist in safeguarding vulnerable populations by improving access to quality food, which helps fight and prevent obesity and malnutrition.

De Lorenzo A, Cenname G, Marchetti M, et al. Social inequalities and nutritional disparities: the link between obesity and COVID-19. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. Jan 2022;26(1):320-339. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35049011/

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