London: Poor diet is a major cause behind the COVID-19 deaths and the Indians must urgently cut down on ultra-processed food to build resilience against the deadly virus, a leading Indian-origin cardiologist in the UK has cautioned.
Dr Aseem Malhotra, who is among the UK's National Health Service (NHS) frontline medics and also a professor of evidence based medicine, said that obesity and excess weight were the "elephant in the room" that need to be addressed as a major factor behind the deaths from the coronavirus.
"India is particularly vulnerable, having a very high prevalence of lifestyle related diseases," says the 42-year-old medic, who is on a mission to spread awareness around lifestyle changes as a major weapon in the fight against coronavirus.
"Specifically, conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease are three of the major risk factors for death from COVID-19. This is rooted in excess body fat, a cluster of conditions known as a metabolic syndrome," he noted.
Western countries such as the US and the UK have seen some of the highest death rates from COVID-19 in the world, which are likely to correlate with unhealthy lifestyles.
"The elephant in the room is that the baseline general health in many Western populations was already in a horrendous state to begin with. In the UK and US, more than 60 per cent of adults are overweight or obese," he pointed out.
In the US, less than one in eight people are metabolically healthy, which means having normal blood pressure, having a weight circumference if you are a man less than a 102cm and less than 88cm for a woman and healthy levels of blood sugar and good cholesterol.
"There's no such thing as a healthy weight, only a healthy person. If people try to maintain all these metabolic health parameters through a healthy lifestyle, this could potentially be achieved within a few weeks of just a change of diet," says Malhotra, who is from New Delhi.
A recent report in the 'Nature' science journal revealed that patients with Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome might have up to 10 times greater risk of death when they contract COVID-19 and called for mandatory glucose and metabolic control of Type 2 diabetes patients to improve outcomes.
Malhotra warns that the medications that are used for Type 2 diabetes and many of the other conditions have "very, very marginal effects" in terms of improving lifespan or reducing risk of death, which most people are not made aware of, and they also come with side effects.
"This is not to say that medications should be discontinued but the lifestyle changes are considerably more impactful on health and will reduce the need for medication. The positive news is that you can reverse this, but it is not being made aware to patients or practised by the majority of physicians as lifestyle prescriptions in India," he said.
Based on his own clinical experience and also reflected across medical literature, the expert recommends giving up ultra-processed foods, which covers any packaged food that comes with five or more ingredients, because usually these are high in sugar, starch, unhealthy oils, additives and preservatives.
In the UK, these foods now represent more than 50 per cent of the diet, which he says is "really quite staggering and shocking".
Similar figures are there for the US and probably to some degree reflect why there is specifically more increased death rates from COVID-19 in these countries.
"So, what I would advise the Indian population is to completely cut out these types of food from their diet, make sure that you are cooking from scratch, do not snack," the doctor said.
"Beyond that, the other issue in Indian diet is that we have a very high intake of refined carbohydrate foods, these are also foods that are particularly harmful in excess because they raise glucose and insulin and therefore rooted in many of these chronic conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease this involves too much consumption of flour and white rice.
"These must be swapped with a variety of wholefoods such as vegetables and fruits and for those who are non-vegetarians, it is completely fine to eat red meat as well as full fat dairy products, eggs, fish etc," he said.
In reference to recent data on the higher risk faced by black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities in the UK from coronavirus, the NHS doctor believes that disparity is also cultural or lifestyle related.
"South Asians have been found vulnerable because the prevalence of metabolic syndrome is three-four-fold higher in the population. Indians, therefore, I think have to be extra careful with their diet and what they are consuming and they should also not have the illusion of protection just because they are given a normal body mass index (BMI). Extra body fat, particularly around the waist, is much more detrimental to health than using outdated indices such as BMI to define health risk," he said.
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Around June 1, a five-minute video of an interview of a woman recorded in the style of an exposé went viral. The woman appears to be an office-bearer and is sitting behind a desk. She says, “These people are terrorists and we are giving them VIP treatment… we are exhausting our resources on them, getting our doctors ill for them…we are using 100 test kits per day on them, if they didn’t exist we wouldn’t need the kits… these people should be hit and kept in solitary confinement… Can’t Yogi ji give an order that state’s resources won’t be used on them.. we are sacrificing Rs 100 crores of the nation for these 20 crores.” The population of Muslims in India is approximately 20 crores.
A mic with the logo of ‘News इंडिया 1’ can be seen in the video. The interviewers behind the camera are trying to gain an official statement from the woman for their news bulletin. As per social media claims, the woman being interviewed is Aarti Lalchandani, the principal of GVSM Medical College, Kanpur.
The social media claims are true. The person in the video is indeed Aarti Lalchandani, the principal of GVSM Medical College in Kanpur. On June 1, several media outlets published a report about the viral video including The Hindu and The Indian Express.
According to The Hindu, “Lalchandani first said that the video was “morphed” and that she did not refer to any community or target Muslims. But in the same breath, she also admitted that she made the comments as a vent during the initial days of the COVID-19 crisis in Kanpur.”
She told both the publications that the local journalist who leaked the video tried to blackmail her and extort administrative favors. However, speaking with Alt News, Lalchandani said that she wasn’t aware of the clip’s existence until it became viral on social media. It is unclear how she could possibly be blackmailed over something that wasn’t in her notice. Moreover, she was unable to provide any evidence of the same.
Omar Rashid, the journalist who wrote the report for The Hindu, tweeted that Lalchandani told the outlet that she had made the comments in anger.
The principal of Kanpur Medical College Arati Lalchandani allegedly calls Tablighi Jamaat members terrorists, says they should be sent to dungeons, jungles & solitary confinement rather than being treated in isolation wards. She told @the_hindu that she made the comment in anger pic.twitter.com/vfM2tVnTaV— Omar Rashid (@omar7rashid) May 31, 2020
In her statement that was sent over WhatsApp, Lalchandani wrote, “THESE ARE NOT MY STATEMENTS GIVEN TO MEDIA but a malicious sting and do not reflect my inner feelings.” She added, “Even a mother in her anger says go to hell to her own children. And then hugs them the next moment. My actions have always spoken louder than words and will continue to do so. I shall continue serving you all and you can always send to me anyone in need. I work 24 hours for you.”
It is pertinent to note that Lalchandani did not apologize for the racist comments.
Therefore the social media claim associated with the video is true. Aarti Lalchandani, the principal of GVSM Medical College in Kanpur, indeed made derogatory remarks against Tablighi Jamaat members and the Muslim community. She said the country should put them behind bars instead of spending money and resources for their treatment.
Here's her Facebook post: