During the 24 weeks from March 24th 2023 to September 1st 2023 there were 32,130 registered deaths due to heart failure in England. In 2020 we had expected 25,512 heart failure deaths during the corresponding weeks, a difference of 6,618. If we extrapolate to 52 weeks then, at the prevailing rate, we’ll see 14,339 more deaths from heart failure in 2023 than we expected in 2020. To put this in some kind of perspective, that’s equivalent to the total number of deaths from all causes in Lancashire in any single year, or, if you’re not familiar with Lancashire, it’s about the same as the total number of deaths in Devon and Cornwall in a single year.
Deaths from heart failure over the past 24 weeks have been 26% higher than the expected level in 2020. The source of this rather alarming statistic is the latest report from the Department for Health Improvement and Disparities.
However, it doesn’t report it in quite the same way. It compares heart failure deaths in 2023 with ‘expected’ heart failure deaths for 2023, without mentioning that ‘expected’ heart failure deaths in 2023 are 8% higher than in 2020. Inflation affects heart failure deaths just as much as it does the pound in your pocket, it seems!
Figure 1 shows the level of registered heart failure deaths in 2023 measured against the ‘expected’ level for 2020 and 2023. These are shocking figures. But what’s the cause?
Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty offered up ‘delays to the prescription of statins’, before this theory was thoroughly debunked by Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson in a Substack post, subsequently reprinted by the Daily Sceptic.
Others blame the tendency of the lockdowns to reduce activity levels and force us into unhealthy lifestyles.
For me, two chance meetings at a riverside pub garden encapsulates the role of pharma and non-pharma interventions in this sorry state of affairs. Which of these paths bears the greater burden of responsibility, I leave it up to you to decide.
Picture the scene: a warm summer evening during the recent fine weather, a pleasant pub garden, boats and paddleboarders drifting by. A friend came over. He’d been a zealous masker and social distancer. He had fallen out with various people over his over-zealous compliance with the whole Covid theatre. But surprisingly his opening words were to inform me that the 43 year-old girlfriend of a mutual acquaintance had just dropped dead and, amazingly to me, he blamed the vaccine. He then went on to tell me about John Campbell, adverse reactions and the dangers of spike proteins. I agreed that it wouldn’t be a surprise if the vaccine had been a contributing factor.
We hear this story again and again. Vaccine injuries and deaths are a real thing. The real-world benefits of mRNA vaccines are very debatable. ‘Cases’ peaked in January 2022 at three times their previous peak and after 90% of the population were vaccinated. According to Euromomo, excess deaths across most of Europe in post-vaccine roll-out 2022 were 7% higher than in 2021 and only 2.7% lower than in pandemic ravaged 2020.
As my first friend was leaving, a second old friend came along. He used to regularly cycle in the same group as me but hadn’t been since the lockdowns. Now, here he was, 10 kilos (1½ stone and 3.2 points on the BMI scale) heavier, explaining that he’d never really got back into cycling after the lockdowns and now he felt he’d be so far off the pace he’d struggle to keep up and where’s the fun in that? He then went on to say that, the end of cycling aside, the first lockdown had been the happiest period in his family life. He’s a bit of a Lefty, and, true to form, made an abrupt Left turn and went into the merits of UBI (universal basic income), how wonderful if everyone could frisk in their garden in late spring sunshine and to hell with work. Lounging on the riverbank in the late summer sunshine I could have easily been persuaded that he had a point!
As seductive as this notion may seem, I was reminded of a fascinating paper produced by the ZOE group back in July 2020. (You can see the study here, though perhaps the video is more easily digestible.)
The study looked at the lifestyle impact of the first lockdown across a number of factors, one of which was weight. The results across all the factors were bi-directional, meaning that some people put on weight and some people lost weight. Likewise, some people increased their activity levels while others reduced theirs. Some snacked more, some snacked less.
Figure 2 shows the impact on weight. With over 200,000 participants this was a huge study. Participants were divided into two groups: low DI and high DI. DI stands for ‘disruption index’; it indicates the degree to which someone’s lifestyle was impacted by the lockdown.
Body weight change was highly variable among individuals. In the Low DI group, 33% of participants lost a mean of 4.4 kg and 34% gained a mean of 3.7 kg. Amongst the High DI group, 33% lost an average of 5.5 kg, while 34% put on an average 4.2 kg.
The change for the population as a whole was about zero, but this masked big variances at the individual and sub-group level. There were many examples where people were spurred on to change their lifestyles, but as a general rule the fit got fitter and the fat got fatter. This friend, having gained a few kilos in the first lockdown, was now distinctly overweight and compounding the problem year after year.
I would argue that the picture unearthed by the ZOE lockdown study is probably indicative of what would happen if UBI allowed people to absent themselves from the workforce. I suspect WFH (working from home) for some people also emulates a less extreme form of lockdown, leaving more time for both strenuous activity or sloth.
It’s perhaps worth just reminding ourselves of the degree to which the U.K. has become a nation of fatties. Figure 3 shows the proportion of overweight and obese over 18 years-olds by English region.
It’s a sorry tale.
But it’s not only some adults who displayed a tendency to put on weight during the lockdown. More worryingly still, children followed the same path.
Figure 4 illustrates the degree to which reception age and year 6 boys and girls saw obesity levels accelerate dramatically in 2020-21. While the ‘reception age’ kids’ mean weight went back to its pre-pandemic levels the mean weight for year 6 kids didn’t, showing about a three percentage point increase.
Among the ‘severely obese’, the impact of the lockdowns is even more dramatic, as shown in figure 5. Among year 6 boys there’s been an increase of about a a third in the number of the severely obese.
All too predictably, these increases in obesity tend to follow levels of family deprivation. Figure 6 shows that the most deprived kids are about twice as likely as the least deprived kids to be obese. In addition it shows that during 2020-21 the kids from the poorest homes were about three times as likely to become obese as kids from the better off homes.
Of course, the solution for my cycling-lapsed friend is, in the Tebbit tradition, to get on his bike. The same goes for just about everyone else. But that’s not how the health professionals seem to see it. Rather than take responsibility for your own health, the taxpayer is going to be landed with a bill for ‘Wegovy’, the brand name of ‘semaglutide’, a drug that NICE claims could help people reduce their weight by over 10%, if implemented alongside nutrition and lifestyle changes.
Wegovy is made by pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk. Its share price has doubled in the last 12 months and went up 400% over the past five years. It’s been a good time to be big in obesity!
Let’s roll forward 10 years. The NHS has been spending countless millions of taxpayers money on Wegovy, what’s the result? More obesity, the same level of obesity or less obesity? My money’s on more. What’s more, Wegovy comes with its own fair share of side-effects. Stop taking it and your weight tends to pile back on.
The story with Covid was clear: look after your health and there’s nothing much to worry about; pharma and non-pharma interventions simply weren’t required. Exactly the same is true with regard to weight and general health. But how do we help people realise that salvation doesn’t reside with Big Pharma?