Why is New Orleans’ coronavirus death rate nearly three times New York’s? Obesity is a factor

By Brad Brooks

(Reuters) – The coronavirus has been a far deadlier threat in New Orleans than the rest of the United States, with a per-capita death rate almost three times that of New York City. Doctors, public health officials and available data say the Big Easy’s high levels of obesity and related ailments may be part of the problem.

“We’re just sicker,” said Rebekah Gee, who until January was the health secretary for Louisiana and now heads Louisiana State University’s healthcare services division. “We already had tremendous healthcare disparities before this pandemic – one can only imagine they are being amplified now.”

Along with New York and Seattle, New Orleans has emerged as one of the early U.S. hot spots for the coronavirus, making it a national test case for how to control and treat the disease it causes. Chief among the concerns raised by doctors working in the Louisiana city is the death rate, which is close to three times that of New York and over four times that of Seattle, based on publicly reported data.

New Orleans residents suffer from obesity, diabetes and hypertension at rates higher than the national average, conditions that doctors and public health officials say can make patients more vulnerable to COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

Some 97% of those killed by COVID-19 in Louisiana had a pre-existing condition, according to the state health department. Diabetes was seen in 40% of the deaths, obesity in 25%, chronic kidney disease in 23% and cardiac problems in 21%.

Orleans Parish, which encompasses the city, reported 115 deaths as of Wednesday, giving it 29.5 coronavirus deaths per 100,000 people. That rate for New York City was at 10.8 on Wednesday.

New Orleans could be a harbinger for the potential toll the pandemic could take in other parts of the South and Midwest that also have high rates of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.

A host of other factors could contribute to New Orleans’ high death rate from COVID-19, ranging from access to healthcare and hospital quality, to the prevalence of other conditions, including lung disease, health officials say.

But they also note that it is clear that obesity-related conditions are playing a role in the deaths. That could be a warning sign for the United States at large, where chronic obesity is more common than in other developed countries, they said.

Hospitals are reporting cases across the generations -mothers and daughters, fathers and sons – being intubated and cared for in the same intensive care units, said Tracey Moffatt, the chief nursing officer at Ochsner Health, the largest healthcare provider in Louisiana. The prevalence of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease in New Orleans and Louisiana plays into that, she said.

Those family members often suffered from the same medical conditions before becoming sick, leaving them similarly vulnerable to the coronavirus despite their age gaps.

“We had a case where a mom was already in the ICU and the daughter, who was obese, came in,” she said. “The daughter asked staff to wheel her by her mom’s room so she could say goodbye before she herself was intubated. We knew the mother was going to pass away.”

Both patients suffered from obesity.

‘MORE VULNERABLE’

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week released for the first time a report showing that 78% of COVID-19 patients in ICUs in the United States had an underlying health condition, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and chronic lung disease.

The CDC report was based on a sample of under 6% of reported coronavirus infections, but doctors in Louisiana said it was consistent with what they are seeing, and it is in line with what other countries like Italy and China have faced.

Those percentages, said Dr. Joseph Kanter, an emergency department doctor and the top public health official in New Orleans, are likely similar in cities across the United States.

“What we worry about here is that we have more people in our communities with those conditions,” he said. “We’re more vulnerable than other communities, and the number of deaths we’ve seen illustrates that.”

The New Orleans metropolitan statistical area ranks among the worst in the United States for the percentage of residents with diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, a Reuters analysis of CDC data shows. An estimated 39% have high blood pressure, 36% are obese and about 15% have diabetes.

Nationally, the median is 32% with high blood pressure, 31% obese and 11% with diabetes.

“The burden of disease in Louisiana and the Deep South is higher than in the rest of the country,” said Gee. “Invariably that means that the South is going to be hard hit by this.”

(This story corrects headline, paragraphs 1 and 3 to reflect actual death toll of Orleans Parish of 115 deaths; Inserts new paragraph 6 with breakdown of figures.)

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas, additional reporting by Ryan McNeill in London; Editing by Scott Malone, Rosalba O’Brien and Dan Grebler)

‘War on sugar’ takes toll; Asia, Brazil struggle to make up shortfall

FILE PHOTO: A worker checks the flow of sugar inside the Gandavi sugar factory, 165 km (102 miles) south of Ahmedabad, India, March 26, 2012. REUTERS/Amit Dave/File Photo

By Ana Ionova and Chris Prentice

LONDON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The “war on sugar” being waged by governments and consumers to combat public health emergencies like diabetes is slowing growth in global demand, which along with other factors could signal a fundamental shift in consumption ahead.

Consumption may grow at its slowest pace in seven years in 2017/18, according to analyst group Platts Kingsman. It forecasts a rise of 1.04 percent, nearly half the average growth of about 2 percent per year over the last decade.

“Consumption is generally stagnating in developed countries,” Tom McNeill, director at commodity analyst group Green Pool, told Reuters.

Falling consumption in more health-conscious markets has been exacerbated by higher prices and the use of alternatives like high-fructose corn syrup in developing countries that might otherwise have made up the shortfall.

Combined with weaker demand from food and beverage makers globally, this could represent a “step-change lower” – or a fundamental shift – in global consumption, according to Tropical Research Services.

“So, it may be that the real long-term ‘trend’ rate of global sugar demand growth has changed and is now lower,” the group said in a May 7 report.

At least 17 countries and a number of U.S. cities have added an extra tax on sweetened beverages. Another 11 nations are implementing or considering similar levies.

Many are going further: France has coupled a tax with measures like banning vending machines in schools. Chile last year introduced black stop-sign warning labels on foods high in sugar, salt and fat.

Mexico is another example. With one in three adults in the country affected by obesity, the country slapped a levy on sweetened soft drinks in 2014.

Although the impact on health will take years to assess, early data shows consumption of soft drinks in Mexico has fallen by 12 percent since the tax was introduced.

“There is an increasing understanding for the need to control intake of free sugars, in public policy and in culture in general,” said Francesco Branca, director of nutrition for health and development at the World Health Organization.

“With obesity and diabetes very quickly spreading, they are trying to do something about it early on.”

The slowing pace of growth globally is adding to worries the world sugar market is headed for a surplus in 2017/18, after two consecutive deficits. [nL5N1H03Y2]

It could also curtail ambitious plans by the European Union to sharply boost output in 2017/18 in an effort to again become a net exporter, after it ends subsidies and caps on exports in October. [nL5N1H03Y2]

INDIA, CHINA AND BRAZIL

High-income countries like Norway and Canada are already seeing a decline in sugar consumption, Euromonitor figures shows. Now the appetites of developing markets, whose rapid population growth was expected to drive future growth, also appear to be waning.

Sugar sales in India, the world’s biggest consumer, are set to fall by roughly 1 million tonnes this season, the Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA) estimates, due to higher domestic prices and a cash crunch that followed last year’s demonetisation of high-value bank notes. [nL8N1HX4HV]

The government’s decision earlier this year to abolish a sugar subsidy for poor families also dented consumption.

ISMA expects consumption to rebound next year as production in the country normalizes and domestic prices come down, but analysts say long-term growth remains uncertain as the government mulls higher taxes and stricter labeling on sugary foods. [nL3N1GT3TU]

“If India also jumps on the bandwagon with such a levy, as the world’s biggest sugar consumer, this could be felt in global growth,” said Stefan Uhlenbrock, senior analyst at F.O. Licht.

Sugar demand also seems to be stagnating in China, the second biggest consuming country, as cheaper sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) grow in popularity.

Chinese beet and cane farmers rely on state support to offset steep production costs. Imports, meanwhile, are subject to hefty duties meant to protect the industry, with an additional tariff introduced just this week. [nL4N1IO1J8]

As a result, domestic sugar prices are around double those on the world market. This, coupled with an abundance of cheap corn, has made HFCS highly competitive.

The USDA last month highlighted the decline in Chinese sugar demand when it slashed its estimates for consumption in that country for 2015/16 and 2016/17 by roughly 10 percent and signaled more modest growth than previously expected.

“People in China are still eating ice cream and drinking soft drinks,” said John Stansfield, analyst at commodity trader Group Sopex.

“It’s just the fact that these products are now increasingly made from corn syrup rather than sugar.”

Brazil, the world’s third largest consuming nation, has also seen demand growth slow over the last three years as an enduring recession slashed the incomes of many Brazilians. Consumption was growing at roughly 2-3 percent over the previous decade.

SODA AND CONFECTIONARY

Manufacturers seem to think the anti-sugar movement is here to stay, and many food and beverage companies are pre-emptively reformulating their products as a result.

Coca-Cola <KO.N> has committed to reducing sugar in its drinks, with more than 200 reformulation initiatives underway. [nL4N1CW3UT]

PepsiCo <PEP.N> also said that by 2025 at least two-thirds of its drinks globally will have 100 calories or fewer from added sugar per 12-oz serving. [nL1N1CK13C]

Nestle <NESN.S> said in 2016 it is developing technology to reduce sugar in some confectionary products by up to 40 percent without affecting the taste. [nL8N1DW1D3]

“Globally, sugar is in the spotlight,” said Sara Petersson, nutrition analyst at Euromonitor. “The regulations are increasing with time. And if they’re being smart, they’re going to tackle this in advance.”

(Editing by Nigel Hunt, Veronica Brown and Sonya Hepinstall)

New diabetes treatment could be ‘game-changer’

A new form of treatment for Type 1 Diabetes that uses a patient’s own cells to fight the disease is being hailed as a potential “game-changer” after an early trial suggests that it’s safe for patients.

A research team headed by University of California San Francisco scientists recently put the treatment through its first U.S. safety trial and said patients reported no serious side effects.

That’s cleared the way for more tests, but there’s a way to go before the method is mainstream. Researchers still need to determine how effective the new form of treatment is against Type 1 Diabetes, an immune disease in which human bodies attack the cells that produce insulin.

While many traditional treatment methods go after the immune system, the researchers wrote in a news release that may increase the odds of a person developing an infection or even cancer.

The method being studied involves removing less than two cups of blood from a patient’s body to find certain kinds of cells called regulatory T cells, or Tregs. Scientists sort the Tregs and place them in a growth medium to boost their numbers, then inject them back into the patient’s body.

The goal is for those enriched Tregs to help bodies battle the attacks on insulin-producing cells while still keeping their immune systems fit enough to hold off other diseases and infections.’

The researchers said in the news release that all the signs to date have been encouraging, and that all of the 14 patients tolerated the Treg treatment well. The next step is a Phase 2 trial, another step toward confirming the treatment is actually beneficial for patients with the disease.

“This could be a game-changer,” UC San Francisco researcher Jeffrey A. Bluestone said in the news release. “For type 1 diabetes, we’ve traditionally given immunosuppressive drugs, but this trial gives us a new way forward. By using Tregs to ‘re-educate’ the immune system, we may be able to really change the course of this disease.”

About 1.25 million Americans have Type 1 Diabetes, the American Diabetes Association says.

Type 2 Diabetes Connected To Brain Deterioration

Doctors have now been able to confirm that type 2 diabetes has a direct connection to the loss of brain matter.

Doctors have known for many years that diabetes has a negative impact on the brain but the study of patients using MRIs shows that long term diabetes has a direct correlation to the greatest loss of brain tissue.

“It’d been thought that most, if not all, of the effect of diabetes on the brain was due to vascular disease that diabetics gets and, therefore, stroke,” Dr. R. Nick Bryan of the University of Pennsylvania told Fox News.  “We found in addition to that, there’s sort of diffuse loss of brain tissue, atrophy, we think may have a direct effect on the diabetes on the brain.”

A study of MRIs on patients close to 62 years of age with type 2 diabetes for at least 10 years showed the greatest reductions of the brain’s gray matter, where the neurons of the brain are located.

Researchers say that for people with diabetes, proper care is a priority to help delay the impact the disease will have on the vascular system and the brain.

Google To Produce Contact Lens To Monitor Diabetes

Google has put on display a prototype of a contact lens that could be used by diabetics to monitor their disease.

The lens contains a miniaturized glucose sensor and wireless chip.  The lens would continually monitor glucose levels in tears and report the information to a computer or smartphone.

Google says the lens will be a lot less intrusive for measuring glucose levels than pricking fingers for blood tests.

“We wondered if miniaturized electronics — think chips and sensors so small they look like bits of glitter, and an antenna thinner than a human hair — might be a way to crack the mystery of tear glucose and measure it with greater accuracy,” Google said in its press release.  “We hope a tiny, super sensitive glucose sensor embedded in a contact lens could be the first step in showing how to measure glucose through tears, which in the past has only been theoretically possible.”

The unit is reportedly powered by radio waves.

Short Walks Cut Diabetes Risk

A report from George Washington University is suggesting that walking after each meal could cut the risk of developing Type-2 diabetes. The short walks help control blood sugar levels the same as one long walk each day.

Elevated blood sugar levels after meals are suspected of elevating the risk for Type-2 and so “resting after eating is the worst thing you can do” according to the report. Continue reading

Wasted Years

One of the last times my father walked without assistance was when he walked me down the aisle.  He had developed diabetes because of his weight problem, and was now suffering complications from the disease.  Although he was in a lot of pain, Dad was determined to give me away. “Little Girl, this is the proudest moment of my life,” he told me.

In November 1999 Jim and I spent a week with Dad and Lita in Phoenix.  Jim had quizzed the doctor when we took my dad for an appointment that week.  The doctor had said that because of the complications from diabetes, they would likely have to amputate one of Dad’s legs within a year.  “But he’s a strong man,” the doctor said, “and he could live another five years, especially if he would take care of himself.”

On Monday afternoon Jim and I left Phoenix. We were getting in the car to drive to the airport when I turned around and went back in the house to hug Dad again. He held me to his chest and said, “Little Girl, don’t ever forget. Your daddy loves you.” Those were his last words to me.

The next morning Jim and Tammy Sue sat me down and broke the news that my dad had just passed away. Sue knelt down beside me and tenderly held my hand while Jim stood behind me and put his arms around me. They surrounded me with love in that difficult moment.

Peace filled my heart, and I felt that God was saying to me, your dad’s with me here now, and he is happy.

I had needed to know that my dad was in heaven.  God knew dad’s heart. And I believe my dad had finally come to understand the gift of God’s grace.

But he left this world many years before he needed to – because he could not control his eating.  He literally ate himself to death.  His refusal to take better care of himself deprived him and our entire family of many years together.

The wisdom of healthy living is beyond measurable.

Take care of yourself and do what you can to live out your appointed years.  Your family needs you and it is not God’s plan for you to waste the years He has appointed unto you.