Coronavirus Chronicles — Is School Out Forever?

In the picture on this page, we see a school that, while it may not be out forever, is definitely down for the count. It includes a meaningful detail. The presence of sugar-sweetened beverages in schools has been hotly contested. Regardless of how many other problems have arisen, it is totally possible that, by being restricted to home, a certain number of kids have been saved from the destructive effects of soda. A small percentage of them might have avoided gaining a few pounds.

But a very much larger number of children are suffering from the loss of the meals they used to get at school. After all the battles fought to guarantee that school menus would provide nutrition and prevent obesity, now there are no school meals, and may not be this fall, either.

Jane E. Brody, Personal Health columnist for The New York Times, writes,

Given how bad youthful nutrition was before Covid-19, I fear that the pandemic could further undermine it, especially for children from low-income families, who may be missing meals at schools that are closed or whose parents are now not getting paid at all.

Food insecurity has many facets, preventing some people from getting enough nourishment at all; causing others to be stuck with nutritionally bereft highly processed foods that encourage obesity; and leading many to defensively overeat. Without school, kids are obviously prone to getting too much screen time and not enough exercise.

Aside from disordered eating and education itself, there are plenty of reasons to hope, for the children’s sake, that schools reopen and society renormalizes in other ways. Hidden from view, a lot of collateral damage is being inflicted. Here an uncredited writer mentions other concerns:

Families living in inadequate or crowded housing may experience heightened stress or conflict, which can affect the mental and physical health of children.

Restrictions and cancellations of child welfare visits to at-risk families can reduce visits of birth parents and children in foster care, leading to harms.

Forced isolation and economic uncertainty may lead to increases in family violence.

Reductions in support for children with additional healthcare needs, such as those with developmental delays, can lead to delayed diagnosis and support.

Additional problems can harm older kids, like the college student mentioned by writer Emma Goldberg:

The start of New York’s stay-at-home order, which came as she was recovering from bulimia, quickly renewed old anxieties about food. “Right away I had purging urges in a way I hadn’t in a long time,” she said. “It wasn’t like my routine fell away slowly. Everything immediately collapsed.”

What is going to happen? At this moment, administrators all over America are trying to figure it out. Communities have their own individual needs and priorities, and numerous factors must be assessed and weighed against each other.

Earlier this month in Washington, Dr. Anthony Fauci told the House Energy and Commerce Committee that because of the many different levels of illness in various parts of the country, decisions about schools reopening cannot be made on a national or statewide level. They will need to be made regionally, at the county and even city level.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Using Shelter-in-Place Time to Foster Better Family Food Habits,”, 04/06/20
Source: “Indirect adverse effects of COVID-19 on children & youth’s mental & physical health,”, 06/25/20
Source: “Disordered Eating in a Disordered Time,”, 06/05/20
Source: “5 Takeaways From the Covid-19 Hearing,”, 06/23/20
Image by Daniel Lobo/Flickr

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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.

Food & Health Resources