Coronavirus Chronicles — Obesity and COVID-19, Good at Helping Each Other Be Bad

The affinity between COVID-19 and obesity is no joke, and the existing and potential problems resulting from this alliance cannot be emphasized enough. Pretend for a moment that efforts to control childhood obesity had been successful 10 years ago, or 20 years ago. Millions of Americans who are either infected or at risk would be in the clear today. The obvious corollary is that if we can end childhood obesity in this generation, millions can be spared the devastation caused by any disease that thrives on finding obese hosts.

“Okay, we. know. We get it.” But here’s the thing. There is more to know every day. Facts keep rolling in and racking up all kinds of statistics. Here is a list, from a Centers for Disease Control web page, of several recent discoveries about how obesity worsens outcomes. Just in case any of these findings might strike a chord, all the sources are conscientiously noted in the references section:

Having obesity increases the risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
Having obesity may triple the risk of hospitalization due to a COVID-19 infection.
Obesity is linked to impaired immune function.
Obesity decreases lung capacity and reserve and can make ventilation more difficult.
As BMI increases, the risk of death from COVID-19 increases.
Studies have demonstrated that obesity may be linked to lower vaccine responses for numerous diseases (influenza, Hepatitis B, tetanus).

In 12 states, the obesity rate is over 35%, and Kentucky is one of them. Here is an example of how topsy-turvy everything has become since the pandemic, and this is one of those cases where the headline pretty much tells the whole story: “COVID-19 has some Kentuckians supporting government action to reduce obesity.” Kentucky is not known for welcoming governmental intervention. Kentucky is known for having a decidedly negative attitude about such things. Yet, a hefty one-third of adults who were asked, agreed that “the government should make more of an effort to combat obesity in the state.”

The younger the better

As Childhood Obesity News has emphasized so often, the earlier in life that obesity gets a foothold in a young body, the more difficult it is to dislodge. This isn’t something we can worry about next week. It is a Today Problem. If we are capable at all of learning, one of the lessons we should be learning from the pandemic is that childhood obesity is an accessory to murder, and we can’t let it slide.

Not convinced? Even though young people (at least for the initial onslaught) got off easier, when they do catch COVID-19 they sometimes get it really, really bad. There is a monstrous level of inflammation in the body, and obesity and inflammation are also closely aligned.

Here is a really serious indication of a wicked collusion between the two monstrous plagues. The virus has prevented thousands of well-baby visits, routine vaccinations, and other interactions with healthcare providers, including weight monitoring and obesity checks. Any benefits that American children might have accrued during the past several months from seeing clinicians have been stolen.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Obesity, Race/Ethnicity, and COVID-19,” undated
Source: “Updated: COVID-19 has some Kentuckians supporting government action to reduce obesity,”, 09/30/20
Source: “Bad habits during the pandemic may be leading to dangerous weight gain in children,”, 10/16/20
Images by Thomas Altfather Good and Hypnotica Studios Infinite/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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