Coronavirus Chronicles — Factorial Multiplicity

The term “multifactorial” has been used before, in reference to the bewildering number of discoveries that have been made about obesity. Childhood Obesity News has used it often. An influential factor might exert only a tiny effect on the body, and contribute only a fractional number to the obesity statistics.

But so many things are accused of being responsible, in mysterious ways, for encouraging the body to create and hold onto fat cells. The “obesity villains” file holds so very many suspects, at least a portion of them must be guilty. If a grooming product contains a chemical that somehow causes an eight-ounce weight gain over a year, so what? It’s no big deal, right? But what if it turns out to be true that eating from plastic dishes makes people fat? Now, the person is carrying around an extra pound.

In the obesity field, hundreds of minor-league obesity villains have been proposed, and some have been proven. As a thought experiment, suppose that a person’s environment only holds 20 of those mini-factors, The average amount of weight each one puts on a person is eight ounces. Multiplied by 20, that’s 10 pounds a year of weight gain that is totally unconnected with nutrition or even bare sustenance.

Whether in an individual or a population, the annoying tiny effects tend to pile on until collectively they pose a serious threat to health. There is also the synergy aspect to contend with. Two seemingly minor-league obesity villains can team up and do some real damage.

The coronavirus connection

Information about the novel coronavirus comes at us thick and fast, and a lot of it has to do with factors. Age is a factor, but in different countries, things go on that might make age a much less meaningful factor — or even more significant than previously believed. Some precepts are true in one place but not a hundred miles down the road, or not among people with different colored skin. How the virus acts and how humans react turns out to be multifactorial, and people should probably know more about that before reopening schools.

Everyone is carrying around a vast number of assumptions about COVID-19 that may not be accurate or even up to date. Zeroing in on children, Dana G. Smith examines five leading theories about them and the virus. Hopefully this brief summary will not satisfy, but encourage the reader to go read the whole article.

First, the idea has become entrenched that contagion is stymied because children have fewer ACE2 receptors, which are the virus’s favorite place to latch on. While it is tempting to believe that this makes children less efficient at shedding and spreading, this is probably not true in all cases. Smith also writes,

Another possibility is that there is something different in the immune systems of young children that scientists haven’t accounted for yet. As kids age and their bodies go through puberty and look more like adults, they start to respond to the virus more like adults, too. For instance, in countries that have reopened schools, several outbreaks have occurred in high schools, but there have been relatively few cases in elementary schools.

Then, there is a fancy theory that kids’ immune systems are tough enough to habitually deal with the common cold, which is another kind of coronavirus, so COVID-19 is no problem for them. Another suggestion is that children are pretty much socially isolated by parental fiat — but in the shanty towns of Third World cities, this could not be nearly as possible as in the New Jersey suburbs.

In places where only children who seem sick are tested, a lot of positives will be found. In all the excitement, nobody has been particularly eager to test a bunch of asymptomatic children. But apparently there have been places where large numbers of asymptomatic children were tested, just out of curiosity, and shockingly large numbers of them showed positive for COVID-19.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “What’s the Deal With Kids and the Coronavirus: Five Leading Theories,”, 08/02/20
Image by Thomas Galvez/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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