Coronavirus Chronicles — The Unholy Alliance: Obesity and COVID-19

There are all kinds of eating disorders, and some of them make people obese. Dr. Jessica Gold, an expert in treating patients with eating disorders, says,

When the world feels out of control, people want to have control over something. Often, it’s what you put in your mouth.

What, at this moment in time, is the number one factor that destroys any semblance of control? The novel coronavirus. Aside from sickening and killing individuals, it throws our society into chaos. It cancels cherished plans and important events. It ruins careers and separates families. Because of it, people are broke, unschooled, and homeless.

Funny as a heart attack

The virus seems almost consciously determined to sow confusion and discord. Look at how long it convinced most of America that children can’t contract it or spread it. It tricked us into believing that it only kills old people and those who were already sick. It convinced many people — even the most well-intentioned public servants — that opening schools was safe. It persuaded us that a normal body temperature indicates the absence of infection. It had us fooled into thinking that it only attacks the lungs, when actually it finds any organ a worthy target of its malevolence. What the next revelation might be is anyone’s guess.

As much as the legendary tricksters Iktomi and Loki (pictured on this page), coronavirus loves to lead us down the garden path of some comforting belief, and then pull the rug out from under us. Sure, that’s a mixed metaphor, because that is the trickster’s game — to sow confusion. To destroy any illusion of stability, sanity, or control. By the same token, obesity never stops trying to convince people that it is absolutely benign. It cloaks itself in phrases like “body positivity.”

Meanwhile, millions of American families are trying, with varying degrees of success, to keep the virus away. Some have plenty of food, some have enough, and some wonder where their next meal is coming from. We see pictures of empty grocery shelves and panic. Transportation is iffy, and retail establishments have a habit of closing without warning.

We don’t get to see enough of those we want to see, and we see too much of those we would rather have a break from. Eating in public, or with other people, used to keep some of our worst food-related impulses in check, but behind closed doors, anything goes. People are mentally unbalanced and emotionally devastated. Having interviewed Dr. Gold, The New York Times reporter Emma Goldberg wrote,

In March and April, the National Eating Disorders Association, or NEDA, saw a 78 percent increase in people messaging its help line compared with the same period last year. Crisis Text Line, a nonprofit organization that provides mental health support by text, saw a 75 percent increase in conversations about eating disorders in the two months since March 16, to around 700 conversations from around 400 conversations weekly. A vast majority of those texters — 83 percent — were women, and more than half were under the age of 17.

In other words, more than half were children. Conditions are perfect for an obesity epidemic that will leave all other obesity epidemics in the dust. And these two epidemics are both beasts. Each can be deadly by itself, but when they get together, watch out! Well, they are very much together, giving each other a helping hand at every turn. If regular people could manage to be as nice to each other as these two creeps, what a bright world this would be!

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Disordered Eating in a Disordered Time,”, 06/05/20
Images by Public.Resource.Org and Hannaford/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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