Richard Rosenfeld, SUNY Downstate Medical Center – Lifestyle Medicine and COVID-19

On SUNY Distinguished Academy Week: Living well will help protect you from disease.

Richard M. Rosenfeld, distinguished professor and chairman of otolaryngology at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, discusses why underlying conditions make things worse in the face of COVID-19.

Richard Rosenfeld, MD, MPH, MBA is Distinguished Professor and Chairman of Otolaryngology at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, in Brooklyn, New York.  He serves as Program Director for residency training, CEO of the University Physicians of Brooklyn ENT Faculty Practice, and Chair of the SUNY Downstate Committee for Plant-based Health and Nutrition.  Dr. Rosenfeld follows a whole food, plant-based diet, runs marathons, and enjoys regular weight training. He participates in the American College of Lifestyle Medicine as an invited member of the Research Committee and Expert Panel, and chairs the Expert Consensus Panel on using a plant-based diet to treat and reverse type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Rosenfeld has published more than 300 articles and chapters, given more than 1,000 scientific presentations, and is recognized as an international authority in guideline methodology, evidence-based medicine, and childhood ear problems. He founded the SUNY Downstate Committee on Plant-based Health & Nutrition in 2018 to encourage healthy, plant-based eating at Downstate and within the Brooklyn community and is faculty advisor to the medical student Lifestyle Medicine Interest Group and Downstate Initiative for Nutritional Empowerment (DINE) club . Dr. Rosenfeld has been listed every year since 1996 as a “Best Doctor” by New York Magazine and since 2000 as one of “America’s Best Doctors” by Castle Connolly.

Lifestyle Medicine and COVID-19


Covid-19 can be devastating but viewing age as the primary factor driving poor outcomes creates a sense of helplessness.  Underlying chronic conditions – obesity, heart disease, lung disease, and type 2 diabetes – not age, are the key drivers of serious Covid-19 outcomes. 

Elderly patients 65 or older without underlying conditions account for only 1% of Covid-19 deaths in this age group and even for those 70 or older the infection fatality rate without underlying conditions is likely under 1%.  The CDC found that when underlying conditions are present, Covid-19 patients have 6-times more hospitalizations and 12-times more deaths.

Poor lifestyle behaviors account for up to 70% of chronic disease. For example, about 75% of American adults get inadequate exercise, 40% do not follow USDA Dietary Guidelines, 33% sleep less than 6 hours per day, and 15% smoke tobacco. The resulting obesity, heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes account for 70% of annual US deaths and related health costs.

We all have within us the ability through lifestyle medicine to enhance our resistance to infection with better diet, more exercise, adequate sleep, less stress, and robust social connections.  We cannot know with certainty what challenges lie ahead, but we can take certain actions to promote health, resiliency, and longevity.

  1. Laurie Caracciolo

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