A recent article in one of my favourite mass-market science magazines, New Scientist, asked the question ‘Why are men more likely to die from COVID-19?”. With high expectations I finally anticipated a piece explaining why lower estrogen affects the ability of men to store unlimited amounts of energy as leg and hip fat when compared to women, and how this means that men’s fat generates inflammatory hormones in response to too much fat storage, and how this causes countless metabolic diseases many of which are comorbidities for COVID-19 deaths.
BUT no, they start out waffling about how maybe it’s because more men smoke before dismissing that hypothesis, and end up with 50% of the article being about how maybe it might potentially possibly be caused by women maybe having naturally slightly stronger immune systems.
Somewhere in the middle of the article is a brief note on the fact that men, particularly older men have higher rates of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and lung and cardiovascular disease, and that if you factor these diseases into the statistics, men are no longer more at risk than women. Well NO SHIT. Guess what, if you factor in the fact that old people are older then they are no longer more at risk than young people. NOT HELPFUL, New Scientist.
What isn’t being mentioned is the big FAT elephant in the room. These diseases are largely caused by being out of shape, rarely exercising and eating too much, all in the short, medium and long-term.
Just as people who regularly do juice cleanses or eat a vegan diet are choosing to deprive their body of essential nutrients, people who drink 6 pints of beer and eat a whole pizza 5 times a week are choosing to consume far more calories than they need. People who watch TV for 5 hours vegetatively every night instead of walking the dog in the park are making a choice to stay sedentary. Almost everything we do to ourselves is a choice, and every choice we make has consequences. I don’t want to hear any apologist whining about how genetics can make us more susceptible to bad choices when presented with bad options. Everyone knows that a fast-food burger with fries is worse for you than a Caesar salad, people just make a choice that they enjoy today and push the consequences to tomorrow.
In this case, for men at least, choosing to eat more calories than are needed for daily life is a choice to get fat. Choosing this route, for men at least, is a choice increase visceral fat and by doing so worsen short, medium and long-term metabolic health. In case you haven’t heard the term before, metabolic health issues include type-2 diabetes and pre-diabetes (there is no such thing as pre-type 1 diabetes, that one is not believed to be a choice), cardiovascular disease and all that encompasses (heart disease, atherosclerosis), hypertension (high blood pressure), and many more killer diseases.
This is all known, should be a given, and should be the obvious first choice when looking for differences in death rates between men and women at any point in later-life.
What is not known, and will be difficult to do research on, is if you can do anything right now while in lockdown to reduce your risk. For those under 60, absolutely, just start to eat sensibly and do some basic exercise. Our preliminary in-house research suggests that you can make a positive change to metabolic markers of health in as little as 28 days by starting to lose weight. For those who are 70+ you may have to take it more slowly, but if you can walk you can make a change to your health no matter your age.