Coronavirus Chronicles — Ultra-Processed Foods Awareness Surges

The previous post mentioned The Irish Times journalist Conor Pope, on the subject of how much harm can be done when children’s sleep patterns are truncated or interrupted. Sleep is not the only factor Pope mentions. Kids do a lot of things while staying awake until unprecedented hours, and one of those things is eat. Chances are, they are not preparing salads with the aim of delivering optimal amounts of nutrients to their brains and other organs. No. In the hope of overcoming boredom and anxiety, they are stuffing into their faces anything that is available.

In terms of how much fat they potentially add to the body, all calories may be created equal; but the vitamins, minerals, etc., that calories bring along are not neutral. Some foods supply ingredients necessary for successful growth. Some promote a general sense of well-being that lays the groundwork for beneficial activities like exercise. Some nutrients buttress the immune system, and may even help to prevent contagious diseases from invading the body.

Ireland’s Safefood agency issued a report on what has been happening there since the pandemic caused school closures. According to the report, 43% of school-age children — and that’s almost half — are either staying up later or sleeping later. Because of how this affects the production of appetite hormones, among other reasons, pediatricians are not happy. Pope says of the report,

It also shows that, as 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.

In the United States, schools were in trouble even before COVID-19 awareness really began to take hold. People-feeding programs of all kinds are constantly on the chopping block. Congress has been arguing for years about the nutrition standards for school meals which are, wrote journalist Evie Blad, “necessary to combat concerns like childhood obesity.”

Early in the year, a blow was struck on behalf of hungry children when a federal court ruled that the current administration had violated the Administrative Procedures Act and must leave the school meals nutrition standards alone. Then, it was announced that the U.S. will stop funding a World Health Organization program that addresses both forms of malnutrition, the kind that causes stunted growth and the kind that paradoxically leads to ever-rising levels of child obesity.

Meanwhile, another problem was developing, described by the title of a recent article: “Ultra-Processed Food Consumption among the Paediatric Population: An Overview and Call to Action from the European Childhood Obesity Group.” This organization defines UPFs as:

[…] ready-to-eat formulations of processed substances that have been extracted or refined from whole foods and that typically contain added flavours, colours, and other cosmetic additives, with little, if any, whole food remaining…

[…] high in free sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and low in protein, dietary fibre, micronutrients and phytochemicals…

[…] highly palatable, energy dense, with a high glycaemic load…

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “More junk food for children as Covid disrupts sleep patterns,”, 08/20/20
Source: “School Meals: Court Strikes Down Trump Rollback of Nutrition Standards,”, 04/14/20
Source: “Suffer the Children! Trump’s decision to halt WHO funding will hurt the most vulnerable in developing countries,”, 04/15/20
Source: “Ultra-Processed Food Consumption among the Paediatric Population: An Overview and Call to Action from the European Childhood Obesity Group,”, 04/28/20
Image by therealbrute and Quinn Dombrowski/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.
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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