Diabetes, obesity and COVID-19: storm that unleashed fatality – Cochabamba

When the first positive case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Cochabamba, on March 13, uncertainty and fear seized the people of Cochabamba. The scope of this new coronavirus and its action within the body when it invaded it was not really known. A sword of Damocles hung over their heads and threatened to fall at any moment.

After eight months of quarantine, 17 thousand infected people and the loss of more than 1,400 human lives, the picture is clearing up and shows a reality that nobody imagined: the virus was relentless with men, preferably over 50 years and, even more, with diabetics, hypertensive people, with overweight problems and other basic pathologies.

Lethality is understood to be the percentage of deaths among positive cases and is related to the health system’s capacity for care and comorbidities.

The presence of the virus, risk factors such as obesity, high blood sugar, cardiovascular problems, and a deficient and insufficient health system, created the lethal cocktail that triggered the number of deaths from COVID-19 in Cochabamba.

Paradoxically, the origin of the comorbidities with the highest prevalence among those who died from the coronavirus – diabetes, obesity, overweight, and high blood pressure – is linked to poor eating habits and a sedentary life in Cochabamba, as explained by Javier Saavedra, endocrinologist, specialist in obesity.

It is as if the custom of “eating well and abundantly” in Cochabamba had become a kind of boomerang that caused fatal complications in most of the positive coronavirus patients who died from comorbidities.

Yercin Mamani, director of the Departmental Health Service —who conducted three studies, together with a medical team, on obesity and overweight, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular risk in the department of Cochabamba— explains that 6 out of 10 people who died in La Llajta after after catching COVID-19, they had an underlying disease that led to the fatal outcome.

It also provided a revealing piece of information – which is a kind of alert not to lower your arms in this

post-pandemic period—: in the last 60 days, 80% of deaths from the new coronavirus are people over 60 years of age, most of them men, with one or more chronic diseases.


According to data from the Ministry of Health, corroborated by the results of the studies directed by Yercin Mamani and by the information provided by Dr. Javier Saavedra, currently, more than 280 thousand Cochabambinos have diabetes (14%), 6 out of 10 are are overweight or obese (especially older women) and 44% suffer from metabolic problems that can lead to various cardiovascular problems.

These are the three main comorbidities along with high blood pressure – underlying diseases – that COVID-19 patients had, causing complications and their death.

This reality does not only occur in Cochabamba, the same is happening in other countries on different continents. In a public document, the Inter-American Working Group on Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) maintains that these chronic illnesses and associated risk factors (tobacco and alcohol consumption, unhealthy eating and physical inactivity) have emerged as elements closely linked to severe cases of COVID-19, thereby affecting vulnerable groups of all ages. Statement that is shared by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

The causes behind this increase in overweight and obesity in Cochabamba are, on the one hand, the exaggerated consumption of high-calorie and high-fat foods and, on the other, sedentary lifestyle at work (especially merchants who have to spend all the working day at their stalls and those who remain seated for eight hours) and the low physical activity in people of all ages (young people who prefer to be in front of their cell phone or computer rather than playing sports).

There is an aspect that both Saavedra and Mamani stand out, and the epidemiologist from SEDES, Ricardo Céspedes.

The people of Cochabamba must stop positivizing something that is not healthy: obesity.

For many, being “fat” is synonymous with prosperity and well-being. This is not the case with skinny people who are seen, by some, as someone who is not doing well in life.

Giving a positive sense to obesity leads to diabetes and hypertension.

It is urgent to promote healthy changes

in the diet of the Cochabamba

The high mortality rate of the coronavirus in Cochabamba and its direct relationship with the underlying diseases that the deceased had, has brought to light that, among other factors, Cochabambinos need to improve their eating habits and be less sedentary.

The epidemiologist Ricardo Céspedes argues that the population must become aware of the importance of having a strong immune system to face diseases, such as the coronavirus.

In addition to avoiding or carrying out adequate treatment for diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity, which increase the probability of death.

In this context, it is important that the public and private health and social security systems generate policies aimed at achieving a better management and reduction of the prevalence of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) —diabetes, arterial hypertension and obesity, among others— that They affect thousands of Cochabamba residents and they also become risk factors.


The “Post-confinement containment, mitigation and recovery plan in response to COVID-19”, prepared by the Ministry of Health, at the beginning of October, states in one of its sections that the Health System must strengthen the prevention of diseases , while maintaining and promoting health.

A model that improves coverage, but also reduces inequities in access.

Regarding NCDs, it indicates that “the promotion of good health habits must be key to prevent these diseases in the future or to rehabilitate the population based on their pathologies to prevent requests for care reaching the third level of care.”

Reducing health risks may require changes in some behaviors, which are not easy to assume and include different stages that a person must go through, until they achieve their goal and maintain it over time



The task is not easy, it is a real challenge for everyone. It must be assumed to improve the quality of life and be in good condition to combat diseases, especially COVID-19, which was cruel to the people of Cochabamba and took the lives of more than a thousand people, in the last eight months.

Collaborative journalism

This investigation, which ventures into collaborative journalism with the contribution of eight journalists from the six regions of Cochabamba, was carried out within the framework of the Spotlight VIII Competitive Fund to Support Journalistic Research in the Media promoted by the Para Foundation. Journalism with the support of the European Journalism Center.


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