Coronavirus Chronicles — Obesity, Poverty, Race

The disease itself is bad enough, but coronavirus has the distinction of being particularly exacerbated by the heavy additional burdens of race and racism. As we have seen, America’s minority groups are coincidentally affected by genetic factors that predispose many individuals to become obese, and obesity is the most widely-shared risk factor for COVID-19. On top of that, the societal forces that shape the lives of minority group members bring in an additional slate of risk factors.

Of course there is not a 100% correlation between ethnic heritage and poverty in the United States. Obese and economically disadvantaged white people are also in a world of hurt. Prosperous black and brown people are relatively protected from both the likelihood of contracting the virus, and from its consequences. Those realities are solid. But today, our topic is the intersections between obesity, poverty, and race — and, of course, the virus.

Dr. Andrew G. Rundle and others have spoken rather definitively on the subject:

What is very apparent from the data is that kids experience unhealthy weight gain during the summer, that it’s more so for African-American and Hispanic kids, and that the weight gain that occurs during the summer does not get worked off during the school year.

At the best of times, poor and/or minority kids don’t have the advantage of sports camps and other strenuous, calorie-burning summer options. This year, it’s more difficult than ever to send them off to a shared-custody parent or other relative, who might live in a more physically challenging environment. If they are already overweight, they are spending the summer in the same place where they became overweight.

Across every economic class, they are probably bingeing on screen-time of various sorts, and also on whatever food they can get their hands on. If food is available at all, parents are likely to be extra-lenient about distributing it, for a variety of psychological reasons.

Michelle Obama had a dream

In the 1970s, writes Christine Rosen, America’s childhood obesity rate was 5%. (Today’s number is almost quadruple — 18.5%). In her role as First Lady, Michelle Obama sought to turn back the clock and return to 5%. The preferred timeline would have that happen by 2030, which is 10 years from now. Quite frankly, it does not appear likely. Rosen says,

Those most at risk? Black and Hispanic children. In an address to the NAACP in 2010, the First Lady was pointed about the urgent need to improve children’s health in communities of color.

Currently, many authors are preparing or defending works that offer reasons for the disparity.
Sociologist Sabrina Springs vehemently opposes the idea that African Americans are noticeably disadvantaged in this area, especially by obesity. She says,

The cultural narrative that black people’s weight is a harbinger of disease and death has long served as a dangerous distraction from the real sources of inequality.

But Rosen returns to the theme:

Obesity has measurable, significant effects on people’s health. Four out of five African-American women are overweight or obese… [T]he causes are “multi-factorial,” including genetics, socioeconomic status, and environment. Individuals’ own poor food choices also play a rule.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source:”Endless Summer Puts Homebound Kids at Risk for Weight Gain,”, 04/30/20
Source: “Where Do Obesity and Racism Really Collide?,”, 05/27/20
Image by Pat Hartman

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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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