Coronavirus Chronicles — Schools and the Complex Obesogenic Environment

That phrase, “complex obesogenic environment,” comes from the Institute for Health Transformation. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic and the ever-increasing threat of untrammeled childhood obesity, the organization sees three main things that need to be done. They are: restrict the marketing to children of unhealthful foods; tax sugar-sweetened beverages; and implement more school based-interventions.

Of course, “complex” is just another word for “multifactorial,” and versatile writer Sam Bloch published a piece last month that breaks down the extremely intricate tapestry of conditions and forces involved in keeping school-age kids adequately nourished in America. He starts by reminding us that even before COVID-19, childhood obesity was already at 19%, the highest it had ever been. Also,

[…] children who become obese usually stay that way: 67 percent of kids who are obese at 5 years old will be obese at 50, according to one longitudinal study. And so will nearly 90 percent of obese adolescents, increasing their risk for conditions like diabetes and hypertension, and potentially fatal medical events, like heart attacks and strokes.

A pediatrician who runs an outpatient clinic is alarmed by the number of kids who have gained 10 or 20 pounds since March, when the United States began reacting to the pandemic. Stanford University professor Anisha Patel reports that more and more children are breaking into the Body Mass Index 95th percentile, crossing the border into “clinically obese” territory. An Oregon doctor figures that over the same period, one-third of her patients have at least entered the land of overweight, and are relentlessly headed for obesity.

Because of the pandemic, kids engage in less physical activity and sit on their butts more frequently and for longer periods than ever before. Sociologist Joseph Workman says, “It’s really a case of one health crisis exacerbating another health crisis,” a point that Childhood Obesity News has made numerous times. But of course, lack of exercise is not the only factor:

In a normal year, school meals are a critical source of calories and nutrition for kids across the country. When schools close down for the season, they tend not to eat as well… [M]illions of children missed out on school meals in 2020. At the same time, the meals that were served just weren’t as healthy as before.

NSLP is short for the National School Lunch Program. For a yearly $14 billion, it “covers costs for 100,000 public and private schools that serve meals to around 30 million students, or just over half of all American children,” which is pretty impressive. Because of their families’ economic situations, 22 million of those kids receive school meals for free or almost free (and still, many families are behind on their bills, and dread facing collection procedures).

Thanks to efforts led by former First Lady Michelle Obama during her husband’s administration, schools had rules about fruit and vegetables and whole-grain flour and calories and sodium and saturated fats. But then, the March 2020 revolution of consciousness declared that stopping the pandemic was Priority #1, and consequently…

As schools switched to remote learning, nutrition staff could no longer count on students showing up to cafeterias to be fed. The unprecedented event of nationwide school closures demanded unprecedented action, and in response, USDA issued over two dozen emergency waivers to allow schools to get meals to kids by any means necessary.

Of course, saving lives comes first! But it cannot be denied that the growth of obesity will lead to loss of life, too, and for many people, a huge loss of quality of life.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Policy Brief Childhood Obesity: Maintaining momentum during COVID-19,”, November 2020
Source: “The childhood obesity crisis started before Covid-19,”, 01/19/21
Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash

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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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