Infected patient in quarantine lying in bed in hospital, coronavirus concept.

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BOSTON, Mass. — Wearing masks, washing hands, and maintaining physical distance from others are good ways to reduce COVID-19 hospitalizations in the short-term. In the long-term however, a recent study suggests that lifestyle changes may be a more effective solution. A team from Tufts University says the majority of preventable COVID-19 hospitalizations stem from one of four underlying health conditions.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, research from around the world has shown that pre-existing conditions have a serious connection to more severe COVID symptoms. Researchers from the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy find that most of these hospitalizations in the U.S. are due to obesity, hypertension, diabetes, or heart failure.

“While newly authorized COVID-19 vaccines will eventually reduce infections, we have a long way to go to get to that point,” says lead author Dariush Mozaffarian in a university release.

“Our findings call for interventions to determine whether improving cardiometabolic health will reduce hospitalizations, morbidity, and health care strains from COVID-19. We know that changes in diet quality alone, even without weight loss, rapidly improve metabolic health within just six to eight weeks. It’s crucial to test such lifestyle approaches for reducing severe COVID-19 infections, both for this pandemic and future pandemics likely to come.”

Fighting COVID starts with better health

Mozaffarian and his colleagues examined data from 906,849 hospitalized adults during the pandemic. They then created a mathematical model to predict how many COVID-related hospitalizations had a link to the most common cardiometabolic conditions suffered by Americans.

Their model revealed that obesity plays a role in 30 percent of these coronavirus hospitalizations. Twenty-six percent are due to hypertension, 21 percent from diabetes, and 12 percent from heart failure. When combining all four conditions, the model suggests that nearly two in three (64%) U.S. COVID hospitalizations are preventable. Importantly, the researchers also report that COVID-19 hospitalizations due to these four conditions are more common among Black and Hispanic Americans than in white adults.

The study authors recommend that health care providers educate patients at higher risk for severe infection about making lifestyle changes that can reduce cardiometabolic conditions. They also emphasize that race-related health disparities should be recognized and addressed both by health care providers and by state and national policies.

These findings are published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

About Embriette Hyde

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