“We found that well-controlled blood glucose….was associated with markedly lower mortality.” This phrase, which appeared in a recently-published study1 of people who died with Covid-19, has been tweeted and re-posted thousands of times by medical practitioners and researchers.
Many existing food and nutrition trends have been accelerated by the pandemic crisis – and one of them is the big challenge of blood sugar management. It’s not on the radar screen of most food and beverage companies right now, busy as they are coping with the dramatic shifts in consumer demand over the past few months.
But any business leader with an eye to the future needs to be looking hard at the issues. For as we emerge from the worst of the crisis, companies will see public health authorities putting the spotlight onto diet and how foods and beverages can help – or hinder – consumers’ blood sugar management.
It’s clear that the virus is more severe in people with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, which is clearly identifiable as one of the major co-morbidities, found in 33.9% of deaths, according to the Italian Ministry of Health. Others include elevated blood pressure, obesity, cardiovascular disease and other diet-related conditions.
Notably, the same coronavirus co-morbidities have shown up prominently in statistics in all countries, from Italy to Spain to the US, and that’s leading major health organisations to cite blood glucose as an important risk factor for Covid-19.
Consumers, preoccupied as they are with the new challenges in their everyday lives, haven’t yet fully woken up to the risks of poor blood sugar status, but they will be hearing a lot more about it. Many authorities are already raising the issue in the media:
- Professor Dariush Mozaffarian, for example, cardiologist and Dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University, has been widely reported as describing food and nutrition as ‘critical’ to the post-Covid-19 response.
- On US television, Aaron Kowalski, CEO of diabetes research fund JDRF, explained that “high blood sugar can make people more susceptible to other illnesses. Very high sugar levels suppress the immune system.”
- In the same TV programme, Dr Robert Eckel from the American Diabetes Association stated that “type 2 diabetes has an underlying chronic pro-inflammatory state, which means the response to infection might be delayed”.
None of this is new information. Consumer awareness of type 2 diabetes as a lifestyle-related – and particularly diet-related – chronic disease was already high. Cutting down on sugar was already in consumers’ minds – in fact, it is the single biggest change that people have made to their diets over the past decade.
But in the wake of a global pandemic, the messages are far more likely to hit home.
There will be renewed pressure from public health advocates on food processors to reformulate and to create new foods to help address life-threatening metabolic conditions.
There will be more attention to dietary changes that already have a successful track-record in tackling obesity and diabetes (and are already recommended by authorities such as the American Diabetes Association).
Under pressure from consumers and public health advocates, demand for newer and higher quality carbohydrates with a beneficial metabolic profile will strengthen. Now is a good time to re-think strategies about sugar reduction. Only if you consider blood sugar levels alongside sugar replacement your strategy can be healthy in the long term.
- Association of Blood Glucose Control and Outcomes in Patients with COVID-19 and Pre-existing Type 2 Diabetes, Zhu et al., 2020, Cell Metabolism31, 1–10 https://www.cell.com/cell-metabolism/fulltext/S1550-4131(20)30238-2#.XqxOw3EasVI.twitter