Coronavirus Chronicles — COVID-19 and Obesity, Fast Friends

In their pandemic coverage, many reporters include facts like the ones mentioned by Amber Randall:

[E]arly studies on children’s eating habits have already indicated that the lockdowns meant to stop the spread of the virus are indeed leading to weight gain in children… During the pandemic, screen time for children increased by at least 50 percent, one study found… The odds of being overweight were 4.6 times higher for a child who watched five or more hours of television a day than for a child who watched fewer than two hours a day.

Remember the fairy tale where the witch kidnaps children and fattens them up, to be tasty and succulent when they emerge from the oven of her trusty wood stove? The virus does something similar. It keeps people cooped up, encourages them to eat worthless pseudo-foods, keeps them as immobile as possible, and makes them appreciate the value of a good nap.

It prepares them. Incited and enabled by this comradely gesture, obesity turns people into opulent homes for SARS-CoV-2 organisms who are shopping for real estate that consists largely of fat cells. What a great working relationship the two monsters enjoy!

Journalist Greg Sullivan looked into the exercise situation for kids, and found it to be as bad as the direst forecasts predicted:

Some schools are in full remote mode, others in hybrid (semi-remote) mode. High school and middle school athletics have taken a hit. Physical education classes taught remotely run the risk of low attendance and/or participation.

From Fall River, MA, where she is a health and physical education director for the public school system, Michele Sharpe reported great concern and listed the usual suspects:

More computer screen time, lack of routines, stress, anxiety, boredom, lack of physical activity, decline in energy expenditure and a desire for all kinds of unhealthy foods… having increases in childhood obesity rates may create life and death circumstances for our children.

PE teachers are getting used to having their opinions solicited about topics other than the wins and losses of sports teams. Sullivan spoke with a director of athletics in Westport, MA, named Jason Pacheco, who…

[…] said he is encouraged to see his children’s phys-ed teachers, through Google Meet, encouraging students to get active, and to see the junior and high school phys-ed teachers demonstrating workouts in an otherwise empty gym with students mirroring them at home.

Pacheco alerted the reporter to the Herculean efforts of Fall River’s Mike Fernandes, who owns a fitness center and fights the pandemic by holding free outdoor strength and conditioning sessions at his old high school. About 20 kids show up, (a summer group often brought out 80), and Pacheco zeroes in on two benefits that are gained by group exercise.

First, when in each other’s socially-distanced presence, each individual finds inspiration to grow better, stronger, faster, more resilient. The personal rivalry may not be a particularly enlightened motive for self-improvement, but it is a reliably enduring one. Second, kids invite others who, at home on their own, might not have gotten any kind of workout at all. Sometimes, the scary specter of “peer pressure” works for the good. Monsters do not hold the monopoly on willingness to help each other.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Bad habits during the pandemic may be leading to dangerous weight gain in children,”, 10/16/20
Source: “‘It is really important that students find a way to stay active’: Phys-Ed teachers, coaches trying to keep kids from sliding into obesity,”, 10/21/20
Images by Stuart Richards and Kaitee Silzer/CC BY-ND 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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