COVID-19 – could it help kick start the fight to combat obesity?

dentist helping tackle obesitySejal Bhansali explains how dental teams can help in the government’s fight against obesity as practices start to reopen.

The COVID-19 crisis has changed the world permanently and is going to reshape society in lasting ways.

Obesity was a problem before the pandemic. But now we know, COVID-19 is an infectious disease that hits obese people disproportionately hard. No matter their income. Countries with high obesity rates from Western Europe to the US have struggled to keep people alive in intensive care units.

One in four people in the UK who have died from the virus, also had diabetes. Obesity accounts for 80-85% of the risk of developing the condition’s type 2 incarnation.

Almost 30 % of adults in the UK are classed as obese. Obesity puts increased metabolic demand on one’s body. It means the body requires more energy and oxygen. When a person suffers with severe obesity, their immune system ends up working overtime. This, alongside the exaggerated inflammatory response that comes on seven to 10 days after COVID-19 symptoms first appear, is what has killed a lot of patients.

Obesity is a complex health issue resulting from a combination of contributing factors. This includes dietary habits, physical inactivity, genetics, and behaviours.

Numerous studies indicate the association between oral health and a variety of general health conditions, including obesity and diabetes. We often isolate oral health from traditional healthcare and policy discussion, despite it being the third most expensive health condition behind diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Tackling obesity

We believe a multi-disciplinary approach is required to tackle obesity. And the dental team can play a pivotal role. We all need and use a dentist. In the UK, 42,000 dentists register to work.

This month sees the return to work for dentists in England. Following guidelines, while the UK is still at threat level 3-4, dentists are unable to provide routine dental care. This therefore provides the government with a quick win in the fight against obesity.

For a lot of patients, their dentist is the healthcare clinician they visit most regularly. With their medical background, dentists, hygienists, therapists and their dental teams, who have fought a long battle against sugar – the main cause of tooth decay, are well placed to deliver overall health messages. They reinforce the relationship between diet, excess sugar and overall health.

The healthcare advice that leads to a healthy oral cavity leads to better overall health. And a reduction in sugar intake underpins a stronger immune system. Early interventions using a more coordinated approach between healthcare teams to tackle these related conditions would also lead to more efficient resource allocation and be more effective in achieving positive health outcomes.

It is welcome news that the PM is taking the issue of obesity seriously. We therefore believe now is the time to bring dentists in from the cold, to join forces with our medical colleagues, and battle obesity. Perhaps as we recover from the coronavirus pandemic, the population will appreciate the value of, ‘Mens Sana in Corpore Sano’ – a healthy mind in a healthy body.

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