Coronavirus Chronicles — Fear Creeps Closer

Even before COVID-19 showed up, many overweight and obese patients had noticed that their doctors and the adjacent office staff showed a bit of an attitude. This atmosphere has kept people from making appointments because sometimes it seems better to put up with whatever physical problem is going on than to brave the scrutiny of judgmental professionals.

In the hospital environment, patients have encountered a disturbing lack of preparation for their needs. In an alarming article that Childhood Obesity News mentioned recently, author Virginia Sole-Smith quoted outspoken patient Amanda Martinez Beck:

People fall in the hospital all the time and they didn’t have a protocol for how to handle it with someone my size.

Sole-Smith herself wrote,

Because our culture views weight as mutable, it’s considered acceptable to expect fat people to change themselves to suit the system — but it’s supposed to be the other way around. Health care is supposed to meet patients where we are, not where we might be someday, maybe.

Childhood Obesity News has had a lot to say about the stigmatization of obesity. Fat-shaming has been called out and scolded by many psychologists and other therapists, and by the parents of affected children, and by adults who have been fat-shamed and became articulate enough to tell the world their side of the story. The subject has been covered so thoroughly, who would have suspected that it could become exponentially worse?

Degrees of apprehension

After years of hearing about how fat people are ruining it for everybody by breaking lawn chairs and taking up too much space in airplane seats, the coronavirus epidemic has provided a whole new and very attention-getting way to make overweight and obese people feel bad. If they catch the COVID — or so the story goes — it’s their own fault, and they should expect no better than to be left in the alley out back of the hospital. They should meekly accept their fate, while medical resources are used to save the virtuous skinny people, who deserve salvation. Unfortunately, as Sole-Smith reminds us, “Nobody can lose weight fast enough to make sure they don’t catch the virus at the grocery store today.”

It is one thing to hesitate about having symptoms looked at because medical settings have been the scene of muttered comments, eye-rolling, small, seemingly inadvertent humiliations, and other micro-aggressions. When they start talking about weight-based triage and denial of potentially life-saving treatment during a pandemic, that is another whole level of apprehension.

Health-care avoidance

Lately, many patients being tested for or treated for the virus have felt that medical personnel had negative feelings, and were dismissive of their particular needs. Aubrey Gordon, aka Your Fat Friend, says, “I am legitimately very afraid of the health care I would get.” To ask whether obese people delay in seeking medical attention for COVID-like symptoms is painful but necessary.

One problem is the not entirely forthright response to investigative attempts, about which Sole-Smith quotes Rebecca Puhl, Ph.D.:

This is a really important question but so hard to document… If a doctor chooses one patient over another for a ventilator, that probably won’t be written into the report. So there’s a layer of stigma here that may be present but is very hard to monitor or document in any way.

Plenty of misguided souls wander in the wilderness of “their own research,” which does have the advantage of at least being justifiable on some level of rationality. Many more suffer from plain old delusional notions. So there is enough confusion going on without adding coronavirus cases that would have been preventable, if not for the psychological barriers that people with long experience of being fat patients would prefer to avoid.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “How Fatphobia Is Leading to Poor Care in the Pandemic,”, 01/10/21
Image by Xuan Che/CC BY 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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