Coronavirus Chronicles — Will Summer Slide Be a Permanent Condition?

Dr. Samareh Hill is Medical Director of WakeMed, a program whose function is to manage excess weight and associated health conditions in children and teens. Dr. Hill says that the quarantine has caused kids to gain from 5 to 30 pounds. Of course, part of that is a normal, expected phenomenon that some call the summer slide.

Childhood Obesity News has quoted several experts who are dismayed to verify that children do not work off their extra pounds during school’s long break, but actually add weight. This year is likely to be worse, as described by

The loss of opportunities for physical activity from school closures, especially when coupled with potentially diminished nutrition, can be particularly harmful to children. Current models estimate that childhood obesity rate may increase by 2.4 percent if school closures continue to December 2020.

A comparable “summer slide” takes place in the intellectual realm:

According to the Northwest Evaluation Association, in the summer following third grade, students lose nearly 20 percent of their school-year gains in reading and 27 percent of their school-year gains in math. By the summer after seventh grade, students lose on average 39 percent of their school-year gains in reading and 50 percent of their school-year gains in math.

Because of all the potential developmental effects on children, extended school closure is being massively resisted. There are other issues too.

In New York City, journalist Keith Gessen interviewed the president of the local branch of the International Union of Operating Engineers. Also known as building custodians, they are in charge of everything having to do with a school’s physical plant. Robert Troeller explains how a lot of words have been said — not by the workers — about what these union members will do. The politicians promise “deep cleaning,” a term that had already possessed a specific meaning in the school maintenance lexicon.

Before COVID, Troeller says, deep cleaning referred to what happened during the summer, when entire buildings were scrubbed and painted and waxed from wall to wall. “That’s certainly not happening overnight,” he says. “I think what they’re talking about is that each horizontal surface will be wiped down and cleaned and sanitized.”

Payment for all these extra labor hours and supplies is to be eked out of a budget no larger than last years’. Troeller also adds that most of the city’s schools are so old they do not have HVAC systems. Considering that one of the principles of infection avoidance is to keep fresh air circulating, this is ominous. The fresh air recommendation does not bode well for the students’ ability to keep warm in class in New York’s frigid winter.

New York’s problems also point out why, in these matters, it is so difficult to rule from the top. The federal government has no idea how to make useful laws about school closure that work in every corner of America. These things need to be figured out by honest, informed, and responsible local authorities.

Gessen also sought information from Dimitri Christakis, editor-in-chief of the journal JAMA Pediatrics, who wants schools open, and expresses a reluctance to leave the decision in the hands of local authorities, scientists, experienced plague wranglers, or anyone else other than politicians.

The entire debate, he says, is being dominated by infectious-disease experts. “If you ask them, ‘Can schools play an important role in the transmission of the virus?,’ the answer is, ‘Yes, they could!’ But they’re not thinking about the risks of not opening schools. Our children have already paid a heavy price, and they’re going to pay a heavier price if we keep them out.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Doctors worry COVID-19 lockdowns could lead to future spike in childhood obesity,”, 07/16/20
Source: “The importance of reopening America’s schools in fall,”, 07/25/20
Source: “What Will the First Day of School Look Like?,”, 08/03/20
Image by Daniel R. Blume/CC BY-SA 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.
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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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