Coronavirus Chronicles — Obesity, Poverty, Race, and COVID-19

Slowly and painfully, the world is learning more about the SARS-CoV-2 organism and its ways. An area related to both children and adults is race, where the numbers cannot be mashed down into comfortable conformity. Robert Roy Britt mentions that research published earlier this year

[…] found Covid-19 death rates among black people and Hispanics much higher (92.3 and 74.3 deaths per 100,000 population, respectively) than among whites (45.2) or Asians (34.5).
In Chicago, nearly 70% of Covid-19 deaths have been among black people, who make up 30% of the population.

In a way, it makes sense, given that the virus is attracted to obese humans. Of the children who have gotten sick and/or died, roughly three out of four had something else medically out of order.

Often the underlying problem is obesity. Children from low-income households tend to be obese. Hispanic, Black, and Native American children tend to be obese. Obesity, poverty, and minority group membership are factors that work in concert to provide the “perfect storm” situation for COVID-19.

Journalists Jane Greenhalgh and Pati Neighmond explain the ramifications of a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. Researchers defined a time period (February 12 to July 31, 2020) and within it, counted the coronavirus patients under the age of 21 that the CDC was able to know about. They found a “staggering racial disparity”:

Of the children who died, 78% were children of color: 45% were Hispanic, 29% were Black and 4% were non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native.

The intersection of race with poverty and obesity  is a sterling example of how the multifactorial nature of a societal issue can cause endless complications when the time comes for solving that problem. The troubled populations deal with crowded living conditions, food insecurity, constant anxiety about housing, and various forms of discrimination.

As Britt points out, minority workers can’t be choosey about where and when they work, and probably don’t have paid sick leave. Too often, because they are seen as infinitely replaceable, employers do not make an effort to protect them from contagion.

Too much going on

Many critics have pointed out what they perceive as a major problem, namely, the refusal of scientists to accept that “normal” weight for one ethnic group simply may not be the norm for another. Bias is so prevalent that even trained, educated professionals do not recognize it in themselves.

Ed Yong, for The Atlantic, spoke of “medical gaslighting,” in which physical distress is “downplayed as a psychological problem such as stress or anxiety.” Some heads are infested by nonsense, like the belief that dark-skinned people do not feel pain as acutely as others, which causes a legitimate need for medication to be dismissed as “drug-seeking behavior.” Yong spoke with a Black woman whose COVID-19 symptoms were processed by two different emergency rooms under the assumption that her problem was a drug overdose.

Genetic, economic, and societal factors need to be examined, in addition to even more basic examples of ignorance that really need to be revisited before any determinations about race are made. Adding insult to injury, CNN reported that “much of the state and federal data on Covid-19 deaths are preliminary and information on race and ethnicity still isn’t available for tens of thousands of cases.”

Even worse, people have been misinformed by authorities. Americans, for instance, labored for some time under the delusion that children are practically immune to COVID-19, and if they do become infected, it’s no big deal. How can we protect children of any color from sickness or death, if we don’t even acknowledge the possibility that they can catch the disease?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Stark Look at Covid-19 and Racial Disparities,”, 05/14/20
Source: “The Majority Of Children Who Die From COVID-19 Are Children Of Color,”, 09/16/20
Source: “Long-Haulers Are Redefining COVID-19,”, 08/19/20
Source: “Coronavirus continued to spread among San Francisco’s low-income Hispanic population despite lockdown, study finds,”, 06/18/20
Image by Yuri Samoilov/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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