The US is set up for a tsunami of deaths caused by chronic diseases – especially heart disease – once the coronavirus pandemic is over, a former US Food and Drug Administration commissioner said Tuesday.
“Once the acute phase of this crisis is past, we will face an enormous wave of death and disability due to common chronic diseases (CCDs), with cardiometabolic diseases at the crest,” Dr. Robert Califf, who was FDA commissioner in the Obama administration and who now works at Verily Life Sciences and Google Health, wrote in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.
It’s an ongoing problem that the pandemic has worsened, Califf argued. “Unlike its peers, the United States has seen declining life expectancy over the last few years after decades of steady progress. This reversal is chiefly due to increases in drug overdose and suicide, but deaths from CVD (cardiovascular disease), particularly stroke, have also increased.
"These challenges are coupled with adverse patterns of risk among younger people, including increases in obesity, hypertension, and glucose intolerance driven by poor diet and lack of exercise—patterns that portend increases in cardiometabolic disease for decades to come,” he wrote.
“This concerning pattern is compounded by an alarming increase in deaths directly from COVID-19 together with rising CCD- and drug-related deaths. The net effect is a substantial increase in excess death and a correspondingly steep drop in average U.S. life expectancy, perhaps by as much as three years,” Califf predicted.
The US has an opportunity to make big changes to fix some of the underlying problems, he said. These could include universal health care and better use of so-called big data, as well as better sharing of data and real-time tracking of chronic disease incidence to improve prevention strategies.
“The fight against COVID-19 has given us a glimpse of what is possible,” he wrote.
“If we act now, we can significantly reduce the damage from the impending tsunami.”