Simplify, don’t oversimplify

Boris Johnson reportedly believes that his significant body weight contributed to his ending up in the intensive care when he was unwell with Covid 19. A renewed anti-obesity strategy is now expected.

I am not a fan of “leaders” who fail to understand issues and fail to bring about policy interventions until they experience something personally.

All data on Covid19 so far suggests that pre-existing conditions have contributed to more serious illness; obesity brings with it significant cardiovascular comorbidities.

On a related tangent, since the beginning of Covid19 I have been wondering about the parallels between it and obesity.

I spent my doctoral years studying obesity in great depth from a multidisciplinary lens and the policy responses in UK and USA.

In many ways Covid19 is similar to obesity. Obesity — indeed individual weight — manifests very individually in a unique interaction of genes, environment, diet, activity, hormones, psychological health, appetite modulation. It was the multifactorial nature of obesity that made it endlessly fascinating to me. Yet to combat obesity, we have so far fairly generic, population wide policy responses. With the attendant result that we have failed to bend the obesity curve downwards, to use a turn of phrase in vogue nowadays.

(Source: Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet, England, 2019, pub. 8 May 2019)

Covid19 is similarly baffling and complex in its manifestation.

With this lens, it worries me that we are framing Covid19 too simplistically, just as we did obesity, and hoping for a silver bullet — a cure, a vaccine — and that just like obesity it is a losing battle. As anyone who deals with complexity will readily agree: everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler.

Having studied comparative policy making in the two countries failing hugely at Covid19 now — the UK and the USA — with the added drama of greatly weakened institutions in the USA and an underfunded NHS in the UK, I am especially concerned we may never lick it effectively. 

Learning to live with it is a challenge that will require a dramatic overhaul of what we take for granted, what we define as normal. We have only just begun.

(This post is in a series of posts I wrote during the covid19 pandemic that began 2020. The first post can be read here.)

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