Coronavirus Chronicles — Closed for the Longest Summer Ever?

As Childhood Obesity News has mentioned before, summer vacation is what we call an “obesity villain” — a circumstance that gives kids a huge opportunity to pile on pounds in excess of the normal and healthy amount that children gain as they grow, pounds that do not magically disappear when school starts again in the fall.

This year, summer break has already been abnormally long, and lacking in any of the features we are accustomed to expecting from a summer. Sleep-away camps are closed, including those that specialize in treating child obesity. Day camps are closed. Municipal playgrounds and swimming pools are closed. Kids are discouraged from getting together with their peers to kick a ball around.

Food shortages and economic distress affect millions of families, and whenever that happens, disordered eating is not far behind. Doctor visits are curtailed except for dire emergencies. Kids are not getting their well-child checkups or being weighed.

Parents are impossibly burdened. If they have outside jobs, they have to figure out child-care arrangements. If they work from home, they have to somehow do their work with kids around. If they are unemployed, they have to find and visit food banks. If they are unhoused — let’s not even go into that nightmare just now. Parents have struggled through the non-existent “school year” trying to keep their kids academically current. Now they’re supposed to organize exercise programs that don’t involve mingling with other kids, using public facilities, or driving the downstairs neighbors insane.

Dimensions of the Problem

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers painstakingly detailed guidance for schools. In the organization’s view, the prime desideratum is to have children physically present in school, for a variety of reasons:

Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation… Beyond the educational impact and social impact of school closures, there has been substantial impact on food security and physical activity for children and families.

The AAP is also concerned about particular genres of kids, those who are “medically fragile, live in poverty, have developmental challenges, or have special health care needs or disabilities.” The battles to include those populations in public education have been numerous and hard-fought, and to lose ground on those fronts is heartbreaking. On the other hand, the vulnerable are, well…. vulnerable, which in this instance means that compared to other groups, those children are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

A case in point

Emily Oster is a professor of economics, and a polymath who has published a formidable number of papers about all kinds of things. Based on her familiarity with a popular homeschool resource, she finds reason to suspect that online learning is nowhere near as productive as in-school learning.

For some kids, from ethnic minorities and lower income families, the experience can range from disastrous to nonexistent. Oster says,

There is every reason to believe, based on what we know from other data, that these kids will be less likely to complete high school, go to college, get good jobs and earn a living wage. They will be more likely to die sooner.

A skeptic might might say that it is not useful to extrapolate so much doom from one small batch of information. Also, the subject under examination was math, which is difficult and traditionally hated.

On the other hand, the online teaching of math has a big head start over many other academic subjects. The techniques and methodologies of online math instruction are not likely to improve much. If online math has not done so well, it seems unlikely that other subjects can do much better.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “COVID-19 Planning Considerations: Guidance for School Re-entry,”, 06/25/20
Source: “COVID-19, Learning Loss and Inequality,”, 06/15/20
Image by Chris Ballance/CC BY 2.0

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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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