The U.S. has passed 500,000 deaths from COVID-19, and Rev. Robert Biekman feels fortunate not to be among them.
A former pastor at Maple Park United Methodist Church in Chicago, Biekman used to be significantly overweight, but lost more than 150 pounds before he recently tested positive.
“If I still had all that extra weight, it would have probably taken me out because I was experiencing other significant health challenges even without COVID-19,” he explains. Research shows that as body mass index (BMI) rises, the risk of death from COVID-19 rises, too.
Rev. Biekman recovered, and while COVID-19-related deaths and hospitalizations are declining across the country, the underlying risk factors — such as heart disease, diabetes and hypertension — remain at pandemic levels. Many chronic diseases bring a higher risk from COVID-19, and six in 10 Americans live with at least one chronic disease.
A root cause for many of these chronic diseases is poor nutrition, a factor that doesn’t get enough attention in this country, says CVS Health VP of Clinical Product Daniel Knecht, M.D., M.B.A. “Nutrition is the biggest driver of chronic conditions and overall health, and this is, unfortunately, one of the best-kept secrets in our society.”
CVS Health is tackling that issue by making good nutrition a cornerstone of its health care solutions.
“CVS Health can play a significant part in helping people manage chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes and heart disease by equipping them with the knowledge and ability to eat healthy and nutritious food,” Knecht says. “A lot of these chronic conditions can be substantially improved, if not reversed, with improved nutrition.”
To help underinvested communities, two new programs through Aetna provide the Medicare population with healthy food choices. The Healthy Foods debit card available for members with chronic conditions in participating plans across the country provides a monthly allowance to purchase fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood and dairy. In select Illinois plans, a new benefit called Foodsmart offers customized meal plans and guidance from a dietician.
Another example, launched in three Phoenix-area CVS HealthHUB locations, is the Nutrition Coaching & Services program. Its subscription model includes support provided by a health coach, a digital app, and customized meal plans.
“We are trying to reduce barriers to lifestyle change,” Knecht says. “CVS Health can really help turn the tide on the management of chronic diseases and help people achieve their best health through nutrition.”