The Need to Implement Healthy Food Policy to Combat Coronavirus-Barrister Jahanara Imam

The Novel Coronavirus has changed peoples’ lives for good. There are many risk factors that would render someone a victim of Coronavirus. Obesity and diabetes are some of them. Much of the diet among South Asians are very poor which is why diabetes is high among our population. If there is a lesson that Coronavirus has taught us, it is this. A healthy food policy must be developed and implemented immediately to help combat Coronavirus and future pandemics.
In the 1970s, I studied at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (London University), focusing on Human Nutrition and Biochemistry. I learnt about the importance of human nutrition and its effects on building strong immunity. After graduation, I had good offers from many companies in Bangladesh to work for them. I had to decline their offers because I needed to focus on my children. My duty towards my family has been fulfilled and I have returned to Bangladesh to fulfil my duty to my people. My education and experience inform me that there is a gap in the policy of the health ministry. There is a lack of education about healthy eating and exercise. Whilst vaccine research is under way, the health ministry should not wait for such a vaccine. People can be supported now by educating them to change their lifestyles through healthy diet and exercise.
There was a research done by Lille University Hospital in France on 124 Covid-19 patients with different categories of obesity. They were put into intensive care unit (ICU) and compared with 306 patients who had been in ICU for other reasons, without Covid-19. The data shows that almost all intensive care Covid-19 patients with severe obesity (BMI above 35) needed ventilators. It confirms that obese patients were 3 times more likely to get Covid-19 than ICU patients who were not obese. Therefore, the Covid-19 patients with obesity in ICU have respiratory problems due to breathlessness. Ventilators supply oxygen to lungs, which helps patients survive. Many rich people who had Covid-19 died because of shortage of ventilators. This shows that Covid-19 is an equaliser. It doesn’t know the difference between the rich and the poor. However, poorer people will have higher rates of Covid-19 due to the crowded environment they live in.
Obesity is also associated with other diseases, such as heart attacks, angina, diabetes, high blood pressure, muscular aches and pains, strokes and paralysis. These symptoms develop due to being overweight and sedentary lifestyles. People who suffer from these are at very high risk of getting Covid-19. Studies show that trans fats should be avoided. These are found in processed foods and fried foods such as, samosas, fried chicken, French fries, parathas etc. Trans fats cause inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, strokes and other chronic conditions.
The Coronavirus pandemic has been a wake-up call for all of us. The importance of keeping physically and mentally healthy, has been recognised. Urgent measures need to be taken to improve the health of the public by collaboration between the Agriculture Ministry, Health Ministry and Education Ministry. They would work to diversify food production towards healthy food items; as well as launch public campaigns for healthier lifestyles through establishments and TV ads. The implementation of healthy lifestyle education should be part of the school curricula.
By Barrister Jahanara Imam
(Chairman, Barrister Jahanara Imam Manob Kollan Songtha).Collection-Haji Md. Yusuf.