Coronavirus Chronicles — Two Current Plagues, Obesity and COVID-19

They are the worst couple since Bonnie and Clyde. If COVID-19 and obesity were humans, they would be diagnosed as suffering from “folie à deux,” or shared mental disorder. They are like two people mutually ensnared by a pair of toxic beliefs. Both see it as their mission to devastate the world, and both believe they can destroy more efficiently as a team.

Dr. William Dietz, director of the STOP Obesity Alliance, is not the first or only expert to connect statistics with socially relevant conclusions. He told reporter Kim Doleatto,

In a study of more than 4,000 New York City COVID-19 patients, even among COVID-19 patients younger than 60, those with obesity were twice as likely to be hospitalized and 1.8 times more likely to need critical care.

Obesity makes the virus worse and the virus makes obesity worse. The children of Ireland have been held up as an example of the physical harm that can be caused by insufficient and interrupted sleep. Conor Pope writes for The Irish Times,

[A]s a direct result of children experiencing changes in their sleep routine, 49 per cent are eating more unhealthy snacks or treats, 54 per cent are less active and 67 per cent are engaging in more screen-time, all of which can contribute to childhood obesity.

Most kids thrive on routine, a commodity made scarce by the pandemic. When food insecurity becomes a factor, or a family is evicted, people miss their old boring normality. Old parenting standards may have to take a back seat to more exigent concerns. If a family is packing up to go live in the car, the kids eating junk food or staying up late does not, in the moment, seem as much of an issue. Nutrition specialist Dr Marian O’Reilly is quoted:

Sleep influences appetite hormones and being up for longer means there are more opportunities to eat, which can impact on their weight.

James Shea and other researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University surveyed approximately 600 American families about food in the time of COVID-19, and published the results in the journal Obesity. As always, statistics tell stories:

[O]ne-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. On the other hand, 60% of families decreased the amount of take-out, fast food, and already prepared meals while about 70% increased the number of home-cooked meals.

Those different reactions fuel a number of arguments, but probably no one would maintain that the pandemic has slowed down obesity.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Childhood obesity and COVID-19 can be a dangerous mix,”, 07/27/20
Source: “More junk food for children as Covid disrupts sleep patterns,”, 08/19/20
Source: “COVID-19 has exacerbated food insecurity,”, 08/20/20
Images by listener42 and City of Greeley

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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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