Coronavirus Chronicles — Twin Terrors — COVID-19 and Obesity

Halloween is over, but the twin terrors of COVID-19 and obesity are still very much with us. Like two supervillains who decide to set aside their rivalry and join forces, they are in league. Each one does things to help the other.

It seems like until recently, obesity was a joke in many minds. Sure, being fat is a bummer, but as serious problems go, it was pretty laughable. With the arrival of the novel coronavirus, obesity gained some gravitas. Obesity is, after all, one of the human conditions that greatly favor the virus. People who are chronically obese are likely to be affected much acutely than average-weight people. Thanks to its good friend COVID-19, obesity might be said to have finally gained some respect.

Just last month, the venerable Robert Wood Johnson Foundation published a metastudy, a summary of a handful of the major federal surveys concerning childhood obesity, especially in the context of the pandemic. Senior program officer Jamie Bussel told the press,

The newest data show that about 15 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 have obesity… [W]e continue to see stark and deep disparities, with higher rates of obesity among kids of color and kids from families with low income. We also see these disparities with the COVID-19 epidemic.

The foundation’s president and CEO, Dr. Richard Besser, added,

[W]hile obesity hits every racial and ethnic group and every income group, it doesn’t hit each group equally. And that’s what we’re seeing with COVID-19. When you think about why that is, there are a number of different factors. Some have to do with exposure, but so much has to do with opportunities to make healthy choices. Who has opportunities for healthy eating, and for healthy activities, and for the types of behaviors that will reduce the risk for obesity?

The report’s Overview section says,

Early research shows a strong connection between obesity and COVID-19… People with obesity tend to become sicker, are more likely to be hospitalized, and are even more likely to die when COVID-19 strikes.

Cause for alarm

Dr. Mason Gomberg has explained to many parents how the changed landscape of lockdown, quarantine, sheltering in place, and other degrees of separation can affect kids. For numerous reasons, they are apt to gain weight. As the pediatrician told journalist Dave Zucker, pre-diabetes in children is going up, up, up. Diabetes brings eye, skin, and kidney complications into the lives of teenagers, that in the past might not have shown up for another few decades.

Children and teenagers are producing abnormal liver function tests and being diagnosed with fatty liver disease. As other problems that are caused or exacerbated by obesity in young people, the doctor names hypertension, heart problems, cirrhosis, sleep apnea, and depression.

Indirect benefit adds up

Lack of exercise can have a devastating effect. Even if it’s not clear exactly how the whole energy balance process works in terms of weight control, the plain fact is that exercise affects the mental state. If a morning run makes somebody feel so good they decide to spend an hour practicing guitar instead of sitting in front of the TV eating sugary cereal, there is a net gain of self-realization in the creativity and confidence that come from mastering a skill, and a net loss of the calories that would have been consumed on that particular occasion.

Childhood Obesity News will have more to say about these twin terrors and partners in crime.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “State of Childhood Obesity — Prioritizing Children’s Health During the Pandemic,”, October 2020
Source: “COVID-19 and Childhood Obesity: What Parents Can Do According to a Local Pediatrician,”, 08/18/20
Images by Feltkamp/CC BY 2.0 and annabellaphoto/CC BY-ND 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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