Pandemic vs. Epidemic – Keeping a Perspective

As of this writing there is good news the curve for new infections may be flattening in some states for the corona virus (COVID-19.) Today’s estimate for number of possible deaths in the U.S could be as high as 60,000 during this pandemic.

But an epidemic exists taking more lives in the U.S. than this pandemic will likely ever take.  That epidemic is heart disease, also referred to as cardiovascular disease.

While the loss of 60,000 people is beyond tragic, it pales by comparison to the number of deaths the epidemic of heart disease causes – over 650,000 deaths each year, nearly 11 times as many deaths as from the corona virus. The epidemic is so prevalent that the CDC (Center for Disease Control) tells us every 37 seconds someone in the U.S. dies of heart disease.

Maybe the statistic about this epidemic has become so common it doesn’t gain attention as COVID-19, or maybe it’s because heart disease is not infectious, and we can’t “catch it.” But heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S. and it’s a disease that is largely preventable!

Collectively, I’ve presented the scientifically proven benefits of dietary and lifestyle modifications for preventing and sometimes even reversing heart disease to thousands of people over the past decade.  Despite my commitment to “raising nutritional awareness and inspiring change,” as my mission statement reads, I myself struggle with why we’ve become so accepting of this loss of life when much of the loss is preventable.  Fortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic will end; unfortunately, the epidemic of heart disease will continue with no end in sight.

Please allow me to provide some insights following my close observation of the problem over the past decade as a speaker, nutrition practitioner and culinary educator.

The belief that the number one cause of death, heart disease, can be largely prevented by dietary and lifestyle modifications seems too simple to be true.

Most of the population still believes that heart disease is a genetic disease that they have no control over. I’ve heard the same statement many times over. It “runs” in our family. This is a very common belief. However, long running studies of large sample groups over many years have provided indisputable evidence that a large percentage of heart disease CAN be prevented. There are thousands of studies over the past 20 years providing solid evidence for this conclusion – far too many to reference in this article.  I’ve included two very recent studies from highly respected institutions at the end of this article.

Forces acting against the best efforts to educate the public and encourage dietary modifications for preventing heart disease are strongly rooted in our society.

The Center for Disease Control confirms at least 63% of the standard American (SAD) diet is comprised of heavily processed foods stripped of nutrients, fiber and water, all of which are essential elements needed to maintain health. These processed foods, if we can even call it food, have a direct negative impact on the cardiovascular system. An example of the latest creation from the fast food industry is deep fried chicken placed between two donuts (it’s hard to imagine “food” that is less healthy) is a direct frontal attack on our cardiovascular system!

The CDC also tells us that 25% of the SAD diet is animal sourced food, containing saturated fats with direct association linking diet and heart disease.  We hardly need another research study telling us the SAD diet has extremely negative impact on health. We have proven beyond a doubt that everywhere our food goes in the world, so does heart disease.

But, let’s be honest, the manufacturing of highly processed and nutrient depleted food is extremely profitable and it’s not about to go away too soon unless we stop buying it. Big food companies have powerful influences with our lawmakers in Washington making sure their interests (profits) are protected. The same goes for the fast food industry.

Think about this. Between the years of 2014-2015 big food lobbyists made many trips to Capitol Hill and spent over $77 million dollars lobbying for laws benefiting their interests and ensuring that dietary guidelines for Americans do not conflict with profits, rather than our health. Their efforts continue to be highly successful and likely will continue to be successful while our health continues to suffer.

Hospitals are paramount for treating people in a pandemic. However, they do not exist to prevent disease.

Neither the medical system nor Physicians alone cannot stop an epidemic when personal and political decisions are determining factors.  Granted, some cardiovascular disease is genetic, but much of the epidemic is caused by powerful personal, political and financial interests working against us. Until we are willing to take a long look at what’s causing the problem and be willing to make other decisions about our dietary and lifestyle choices, the epidemic will continue to cause someone to die every 37 seconds. The pandemic will end, but this epidemic seems here to stay.

J Atheroscler Thrombin. 2020 Apr 8. does: 10.5551/jat.52613. [Epic ahead of print]

A Combination of Blood Pressure and Total Cholesterol Increases the Lifetime Risk of Coronary Heart Disease Mortality: EPOCH-JAPAN.

Satoh M1Ohkubo T2,3Asayama K2,3Murakami Y4Sugiyama D5Waki T6Tanaka-Mizuno S6Yamada M7Saitoh S8Sakata K9Irie F10Sairenchi T11Ishikawa S12Kiyama M13Okayama A14Miura K15,16Imai Y3Ueshima H15,16Okamura T17Evidence for Cardiovascular Prevention from Observational Cohorts in Japan (EPOCH–JAPAN) Research Group.


Vasc Med. 2020 Mar 3:1358863X19901287. doi: 10.1177/1358863X19901287. [Epub ahead of print]

The evolution of the heart-healthy diet for vascular health: A walk through time.

Fischer NM1Pallazola VA1Xun H1Cainzos-Achirica M1Michos ED1.