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  • Maddie Bergner

COVID-19 and Chronic Disease

If you can’t already tell, cooking and food are huge parts of my life and my practice. Every day, especially during COVID, more and more articles and studies are coming out about the importance of immune health in preventing illness and viral infection. One study found up to 97 percent of people dying of COVID have underlying conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure. In New York City, the key risk factor for COVID hospitalizations is obesity.

This is a critical problem in our country. Six in ten Americans live with one or more chronic diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity or stroke. This is compounded by the fact that 30% of U.S. adults live with 3 or more chronic conditions, and 12% of the same population live with FIVE or more chronic diseases. Persistent conditions such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, respiratory disease, arthritis and obesity can all result in reduced quality of life, hospitalization, or death.



Source: RAND Corporation

Not only does chronic disease impact quality of life, but chronic disease spending represents 90% of health care spending in the U.S. The CDC points to tobacco use, poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, and excessive alcohol use as the key risks for chronic disease. These are all lifestyle and diet changes, and none of them require a prescription. According to the World Health Organization, at least 80% of all heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes would be prevented if these risk factors were addressed, and over 40% of cancer would be prevented.

Before I became an acupuncturist, I studied and worked in public policy. I am deeply aware of the policy issues that are central to the obesity epidemic in America. Our government subsidizes big agriculture to support the dairy, sugar, wheat, corn, and soybean industries, most of which are used as feed for animals or processed to use in refined foods. Our Western medical system is failing to prioritize nutrition and lifestyle changes, instead opting for drug-based solutions that cost billions of dollars a year and merely serve as a band-aid rather than addressing the root problem.


PC: Unsplash

This is why I turned to acupuncture and Chinese herbalism, and I’m always happy to open a conversation about any of these topics. I love talking about sustainable diet choices to best serve you, and dietary and lifestyle recommendations are always part of my treatment strategy.

It’s also important to mention the privilege I have in my food choices and my education. There is a vast disparity in our country in knowledge and access to healthy food. These can seem like huge and insurmountable problems, but the first step is awareness and advocacy. Put your money where your mouth is and support candidates who care about food access. Donate to or volunteer for organizations that fight for sustainable agriculture, greater access to healthy food, and better policies at the national level. Here are some resources to start researching organizations that best align with your values:


119 Organizations Shaking Up the Food System in 2019


Seven Sustainable Food Organizations to Donate to if you Want to Fight Climate Change

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