Coronavirus Chronicles — United Kingdom Meets COVID-19

What has been happening in Europe’s second-fattest country? The United Kingdom, comprising England, Scotland, and Wales (collectively known as Great Britain) plus Northern Ireland, is all one country, where the majority of adults carry health-threatening amounts of weight, and the kids are catching up quickly.

The National Health Service (NHS) announced that over the past five years, hospital admissions directly linked to obesity increased by 20%, with women much more likely to be affected than men. The announcement goes on to say,

Nationally, there were 876,000 admissions due to obesity in 2018-19, a 23 per cent increase on 2017-18, with the most deprived areas worst affected.

Childhood Obesity News takes a special interest in the U.K., because the Brits are so much like Americans, but different enough to make them interesting. Looking back over headlines for the past couple of years, it is easy to spot some trends and notice a few stories that seem extreme.

Parents insist on overfeeding babies, and resent having to tell children they are overweight. Activists want shops to sell sweets under very limited conditions or not at all. Businesses push back. Restaurants and markets say all the laws around labeling and calorie counts and packaging and placement and advertising are expensive and pointless.

In the public mind, advertising is a perennial scapegoat, with an odiferous reputation that proves time and time again to be well-deserved. The NHS accrues blame because it will pay for bariatric surgery, but not psychological help. There is never enough money for schools to do their main job to the utmost, yet they are expected to deal with childhood obesity, which is considered by many to be a big ask.

As everywhere, when people are fat or sick, race is a factor for either genetic or socioeconomic reasons. More obese people with diabetes are losing their feet to amputation. More children are hospitalized with rotting teeth. Hospital morgues have to reinvest in bigger refrigeration compartments. There was even a mention of Artificial Intelligence predicting the obesity levels of a city’s people, just by looking at the buildings.

How are they doing over there with the coronavirus?

One endearing characteristic of the British is that their government continues to optimistically formulate obesity-fighting plans. Another is that they will, when pressed, open their eyes to recognize the serious implications of a worldwide pandemic. The latest proposals take into account the chilling fact that overweight and obese people are quite vulnerable to the virus, and more likely to suffer disproportionately or even die.

We are used to the kind of obesity where something bad could happen 20 or 30 years down the line, in the misty future. The virus brings the potential death penalty into sharp foreground focus. The government says,

Nearly 8% of critically ill patients with COVID-19 in intensive care units have been morbidly obese, compared with 2.9% of the general population.

The newest campaign calls COVID-19 a wake-up call which makes “tackling the obesity time bomb” more urgent than ever before.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Thousands admitted for obesity related illnesses in North Somerset,”, 05/15/20
Source: “New obesity strategy unveiled as country urged to lose weight to beat coronavirus (COVID-19) and protect the NHS,”, 07/27/20
Image by Alvin Leong/CC BY-SA 2.0

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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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