Coronavirus Chronicles — Boredom and Distraction

For many people, stress, depression, and boredom are a package deal. The overweight children and teens who communicate with Dr. Pretlow mention boredom constantly, as a huge problem.

Maybe some of that derives from emotional misidentification. Dr. Pretlow once wrote, “Boredom, of course, may be mislabeled anxiety or background stress.” Stress kills the ability to care, which feels identical to boredom. Depression smothers every spark of enthusiasm, destroying the ability to care about anything, and that feeling can plausibly be described as boredom.

Kids feel it too, of course, and people of every age attempt to self-medicate it away by eating. But rather than the desired state of contentment, what they usually achieve is the miserable sensation of being both stuffed to the brim, and ravenously hungry.

For anyone whose go-to stress response is eating, these are particularly bad times. If a stash of food is available, the person trying to dodge boredom will devour it. If food is not available, a person might take foolish chances of exposure to the contagion. In some cases, embarking on a dangerous mission (to secure vital taco chip and root beer supplies) might even assuage the boredom for a while.

A distraction that keeps on giving

Whether eating is a chemical addiction or a behavioral addiction, the end result is the same: overconsumption. Boredom triggers it, and should be avoided, but how? Dr. Pretlow states one of the basic tenets of W8Loss2Go smartphone app:

Distractions are the best way to treat the rogue displacement mechanism of overeating.

Because so many parents and children are stuck indoors, or at least in the confines of their own real estate, many online guides suggest interesting material on the Internet, like virtual museum tours. But this is not a new phenomenon; there has been plenty of content for years. In the age of the Internet, when just a few keystrokes can reveal the whole world, a child who can still manage to be bored may be presumed to be in serious trouble.

In “The Coronavirus Sanity Handbook,” Tirhakah Love suggests digital comics, readable via phone, tablet, or laptop, through a service that offers a library of 500 comics and graphic novels, and another where all of Marvel Comics’ 81 years worth of archives are an open book. We’re talking about 30,000 individual works.

If the enthusiast has a favorite character, the index can find every episode that character appeared in. Love adds details:

It’s by far the widest library you’ll find in a comics service, with thousands of titles from all the major publishers […] by subscribing to series in the app, you’ll automatically get access to the new issues… Tablets are perfect for this […] to zoom in on small details, picking up on subtle artistic touches…

What can parents do?

Parents can endeavor to teach their children how to entertain themselves, rather than expect a constant stream of stimulation to be poured onto them. They can avoid using food as a tool to repair boredom and loneliness, or as a substitute for attention, like the plentiful snacks that tend to be left for latchkey kids.

Dr. Pretlow makes available an audio clip from a mother who describes a scheduled three-hour park playdate, complete with “bikes and scooters and balls and everything”:

But they got bored and wanted to go home, and then they got hungry. I think what happens is that we don’t allow our kids to get bored and solve their problem. We try to solve it for them too quickly, like “Okay, you’re bored, let’s go home. Okay, you’re bored, here’s something to eat.”

When a parent declines to buy into that scenario, she says, the child’s attitude can change from “I can’t experience this boredom” to “I’ll think of something to do.” The quote continues:

And once they finally accepted the fact that “We’re not going home, you guys have to find something to do,” they started to have a really good time, and then when it came time to leave, they didn’t want to go.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Coronavirus Sanity Handbook: Comic Books,”, 03/26/20
Image by NIAID/(CC BY 2.0)

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The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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