Covid’s Mistress | America’s Stratospheric Stress
The years between the Great Recession and commencement of the pandemic lockdown the economic recovery was a two-faced mirage with eye-popping figures on Wall Street benefiting the wealthy versus wage stagnation, long hours, erosion of health benefits and rising cost of living for the lower and middle class workers.
During this same period most Americans led unhealthy lifestyles as obesity rates and associated health conditions rose unabated despite the media cherry-picking celebrities and individuals who had transformed themselves into ironman and ironwoman with 8-pack ab and outrageous looking “guns.” For this reason the pandemic has claimed disproportionately more lives of people with underlying health conditions.
According to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), “The most common underlying medical conditions reported in American coronavirus patients are heart disease (32.2 percent), diabetes (30.2 percent) and chronic lung disease (17.5 percent).” Some of the following conditions that put people at risk for diabetes and other diseases:
· High blood pressure
· High LDL (bad cholesterol)
· Low HDL (good cholesterol)
· High blood glucose (sugar)
· High triglycerides
According to many domestic and global health organizations Americans (young and old) have been getting ever fatter and for this reason less healthy for decades. According to the following chart Obesity Rates Continue to Trend Upward in US, provided by the CDC and presented 27 February 2020 by Statista, an online German statistical firm, this trend has continued for almost 20 years. Furthermore 4 in 10 Americans are obese while one in 10 are severely obese.
With respect to the economic impact the following chart entitled Where Obesity Places the Highest Burden on Healthcare, provided by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) and presented 11 October 2019 by Statista.
Underscoring obesity’s impact on the US economy, Statista provided the following explanation: “For example, obesity is responsible for 70 percent of all treatment costs for diabetes, 23 percent of treatment costs for cardiovascular diseases and 9 percent for cancers. On average, treating diseases caused by excess weight costs 8.4 percent of total health spending in OECD nations. So where is the financial burden highest? Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the U.S. has to spend the most battling the bulge. Obesity is expected to cost the health system $644 per capita annually from 2020 to 2050 - 14 percent total American health expenditure. By comparison, Canada will "only" have to spend $295 each year during the same period which equates to 11 percent of its total health spending.”
For this reason Covid’s mistress has lit the fuse to the obesity epidemic that can result in a brutal health and financial contagion among these demographic.
Assuming that the curves flattens with no significant increases in Covid-19 cases and a vaccine is developed and distributed sometime in 2021, the legacy of Covid-19 will have already adversely impacted this vulnerable group.
Culinary Lockdown Lunacy
For starters there are more than enough anecdotal stories about substantial weight gain during the lockdown as articulated in the Wall Street Journal article 25 June 2020 entitled Covid 19, Lockdowns Are Lifting and Our Clothes Don’t Fit. The primary causes are a forced sedentary lifestyle such as remote working, unlimited junk food and no commuting. For sure there are dedicated workout fanatics who’ll improvise and maintain their intensity with or without a gym but those are an exceptional minority of gym goers. For most others social participation with other gym goers is motivating while goldfish are not.
There are two groups who are vulnerable during the present-day, near-term and even beyond in a post-vaccine environment:
· Group A: Those vast majority of Americans who were already out of shape, overweight and obese pre-pandemic. The lockdown has exacerbated their situation to the point that losing the added weight during lockdown and pursuing a healthy lifestyle to reduce their pre-pandemic overweight situation might be too much to overcome making them more vulnerable to health-related problems.
· Group B: The minority of Americans within the healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) or have active & healthy lifestyles in which the BMI is not relevant. Even this group many have gained weight during the lockdown, reducing the excess weight may be far easier than for Group A but I suspect some will still retain more weight than they should.
The pandemic has pulverized the economy in which there are few “safe havens” for secure employment. This has caused stratospheric stress across all socio-economic levels ironically creating an employment landscape that will punish obese Americans in a shrinking economy.
· Essential workers are stressed by working daily exposure to the virus through the pandemic in frequently less-than-secure environment and inadequate protection. Adding to their stress is whether they’ll still have their present-day job or if they’re laid off whether they can secure another one in an economic environment in which companies are downsizing aggressively because of low consumer demand or filing for bankruptcy to insecure they’re own survival.
· Because every industry has been decimated simultaneously, the option of retraining or additional education to change careers is moot point.
· White collar jobs, even in the C-suite, are highly vulnerable as file in order to restructure their debt. Those that survive will emerging far leaner & meaner than ever that includes laying off thousands of workers. For those firms unable to turnaround their organizations they’ll have no choice to vaporize the entire work force.
· Even firms with reasonably stable financial situation are discovering that it’s still prudent and profitable to have a leaner operations workforce. It’s not a question of musical chairs because there are no chairs. Nothing is secure.
· For this reason the surviving white or blue collar workers who still have job will occupy a different level of corporate hell because employers will have the power of kings and workers merely serfs in a job environment with no options. I expect increased employer abuse such as ageism, sexism, racism, etc. in the workplace because workers will be in a position of survival not justice.
· Although the probability of a collapsed food supply has vanished, food prices have increased which means the under-employed or unemployed face food scarcity.
The pandemic and ensuing economic disaster have created a vicious toxic cycle. The backdrop is that most Americans have led unhealthy lifestyles with resultant multiple pre-existing health conditions. Even if they adhere to safety recommendations and avoid contracting the virus, the stress of this once-in-a-century pandemic is the straw that breaks the camel’s back on an already elevated stress level.
Mass unemployment, indefinite furloughs, corporate downsizing/bankruptcy filings, civil unrest create a torrent of psychological tornados. To cope with this Americans engage in activities that initially suppress their stress but ultimately compound them such as increased alcohol consumption and controlled substances, binge eating and taking or abusing more and stronger prescription medication as coping mechanisms. Call it “lockdown lunacy” but people in isolation do weird things and discipline goes out the window particularly those who live alone with few (if any) genuinely close friends or relatives. Some call it hopelessness.
With respect to dealing with mental health and anxiety issues the following are charts provided by Statista that document the impact how the pandemic anxiety is having on Americans.
The following is entitled Pandemic Causes Spike in Anxiety & Depression provided on 2 June 2020 by the CDC, National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and the US Census Bureau.
The next chart on mental health related to pandemic anxiety is entitled Mental Health Prescriptions Spike Amid Pandemic Fears provided on 2 June 2020 by Express Scripts.
For this reason the pandemic has morphed into a non-viral vicious strain that converts evermore already unhealthy and overweight Americans into drug & alcohol dependent zombies. This only worsens America’s healthcare crisis not only medically rather financially with additional present-day and future expenses and “flattens the curve” on America’s economic recovery.
Long-term even slightly elevated stress imposes greater pressures on one’s health. Even if one has no health issues, this pressure eventually impacts the weakest part of the body and then things snowball form there. Medication merely suppresses a problem, it doesn’t eliminate it.
Those relatively unaffected are the wealthy whom I classify as those with plenty of savings and cash on hand not necessarily annual income or net worth. Net worth is a financial mirage because when push comes to shove in accessing cash on short notice illiquid assets [boats, planes, artwork, property] are notoriously difficult to sell at a reasonable price during a recession.
The damning forecast is for a far sicker and weaker population well past the development and distribution of a vaccine because of the new brutal economy. The stratospheric stress is the accelerant on an already overweight, aging and over-medicated American citizenry. This viral storm will trigger exploding health care costs, lower economic productivity and quality of life, and ultimately declining longevity.
Only months before the pandemic the media was touting how healthier lifestyles and advanced DNA-programmed medicines will create an older and more robust generation in which living until 100 will be commonplace. The cruel irony is that potentially shorter lifespans parallel the economic reality that the younger generation will be poorer economically than previous generations.
[Originally published 27 June 2020]
Copyright 2020 Cerulean Council LLC
The Cerulean Council is a NYC-based think-tank that provides prescient, beyond-the-horizon, contrarian perspectives and risk assessments on geopolitical dynamics and global urban security.