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Concern Trolling the President on COVID and Obesity

Coronavirus fatigue. Many people were tired of thinking constantly about this virus until our president seized our attention on Friday with the news that he has it. Suddenly we have renewed energy for this subject. And one sidebar to this topic is the president’s risk for severe symptoms. “Trump is 74, male and obese,” says the LA Times. Forgive us if you disagree, but this appears to be more concern trolling than illuminating.

Especially when “obese” is hurled as a form of name-calling.

Obesity Is Not His Biggest Problem

Let’s start with facts. The President is 74 and male. His physician tells us that he has issues with cholesterol and blood pressure. His BMI is 30.5 at last report. That puts him in the range of class 1 obesity.

Looking objectively at those facts, one thing stands out above all else for the risk of severe COVID symptoms: his age. Nothing else comes close. Age alone can mean a that his risk of death is 90 times higher than it would be for a younger person.

A high BMI, by itself, is important for younger persons. But to date, for older persons, there’s not much evidence to link mild obesity to severe outcomes with COVID. For example, Tartof et al found no evidence that BMI was a significant risk factor for COVID severity in patients over 60 – except for males with a BMI above 45.

Health Privilege

As Kaleigh Rogers and Maggie Koerth point out, it does help to be the president in this case:

“While his biology may be putting him in a riskier category, his social status is working in his favor. Being wealthy, white and in possession of a college degree all make you less vulnerable to hospitalization for COVID-19.”

Already he has received experimental therapies that your average “essential worker” might not.

Concern Trolling and Political Stigma

So really, all this talk about COVID and the president’s obesity is mostly concern trolling – a disingenuous expression of concern. In this case, fat shaming is in the mix.

How can you tell? Just take a look at Twitter. People who would not tolerate fat shaming in any other circumstance are gleefully labeling the president as “obese.”

This language is not helpful. Faux concern is offensive, just as name-calling is. The president does have mild obesity, but that is not his biggest problem right now. We can pray for his health. We can read up on the risk factors for COVID outcomes, including obesity. But please, don’t demean yourself by calling the president or anyone else “obese.” Or by using a diagnosis as a subtle jab.

It only serves to promote health stigma. It’s wrong.

Click here and here for more on the president’s prognosis. For more on health stigma, click here.

Wear a Mask, illustration by Mike Licht / flickr

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October x, 2020

3 Responses to “Concern Trolling the President on COVID and Obesity”

  1. October 03, 2020 at 1:01 pm, Angela Golden said:

    KUDOS to you Ted. I was yelling at the TV yesterday – first because of the label and second – we would not be “gleefully” talking about COVID infection in anyone else I can think of. Wether I like his politics or not I am glad that he is getting excellent care (do I wish all Americans had access to the same care – of course) but I am so thankful that you put in to words, as you always do, just how this has shown the labeling that is still alive in our country for obesity. Sincerely, Angie

  2. October 03, 2020 at 3:23 pm, Allen Browne said:

    Yup! He has bigger problems than the disease of obesity.


  3. October 03, 2020 at 3:35 pm, David Eugene Brown said:

    Separately, on analyzing global COVID-19 mortality data and comparing it with 12 risk factors for mortality, they found unsaturated fat intake to be associated with increased mortality. This was based on the dietary fat patterns of 61 countries in the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization database. Surprisingly, they found saturated fats to be protective. https://www.medpagetoday.com/reading-room/aga/lower-gi/86940

    If you Google – Donald Trump saturated fat, you’ll find that the president’s saturated fat intake is considered excessive.