Coronavirus Chronicles — A Remarkably Unhealthy Alliance

“Exacerbate” is a ten-dollar word that describes a sick relationship. When two conditions help each other to become worse, only they win, while any humans who happen to be caught up in the situation are big losers. This, as we have seen, is the unfortunate situation regarding obesity and the novel coronavirus. They work in alliance, mutually promising, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”

A 600-family survey on food insecurity and child feeding practices aimed to learn how the pandemic has affected children’s nutrition. The results were published in the journal Obesity. The authors found that…

[…] one-third of families have increased the amount of high-calorie snack foods, desserts and sweets in their home during the pandemic, while nearly 50% increased the amount of nonperishable processed foods.

Still, there is a bright side. More than half the families in the study had cut down on what is known as “fast food,” and a slightly larger number had stepped up their home-cooking game. Overall, the findings confirmed the ongoing paradox that is the association between food insecurity and childhood obesity. According to Elizabeth Adams, Ph.D., of Victoria Commonwealth University,

Many of these families typically participate in the National School Lunch Program and get free or low-cost lunches each day at school. The closing of schools due to the pandemic forced many parents to provide more meals at home. School districts have helped by offering food at centralized locations or delivering it to neighborhoods.

There is, of course, always a downside. Parents want to do the right thing, but sometimes their efforts are misguided. Adams stated that in some cases they have been restricting access to certain foods, and encouraging children to eat when perhaps that is not the best idea at the moment. When parents are too controlling in general, and about eating habits in particular, over time it “could lead to unhealthy eating behaviors and weight gain in children.”

Of course, in an ongoing food insecurity situation, parents can get very nervous, and might tend to push children to eat whatever is in the kitchen, because who knows where the next bag of groceries will come from?

For the future

Hopefully, the pandemic will not last forever, but researchers are taking advantage of this atypical situation to study the link between child obesity and food insecurity, the better to improve everyone’s situation when more “normal” conditions return.

Dr. Rami Bailony, Stanford Medical Entrepreneurship fellow and co-founder of Enara Health, comes right out and says it:

Our world is facing two pandemics right now. The acute one, Covid-19, is swift and relentless — and it’s disproportionately preying upon people affected by an even larger, more-enduring pandemic: obesity.

Obesity is a leading risk factor in mortality and morbidity from Covid-19. And yet we’re not acknowledging this truth in our plans for protecting our most vulnerable populations. This speaks to a much larger deficiency within our society and our health care system today: the stubborn refusal to recognize and treat obesity as the chronic, deadly disease that it is.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “COVID-19 has exacerbated food insecurity,”, 08/20/20
Source: “The Dangerous Link Between Coronavirus and Obesity,”, 05/28/20
Image by flowcomm/CC BY 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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