What a Year We’ve Had: Five Defining Marks of 2020

We started this new decade “pretty sure” about stories that would grab headlines this year. But we also said we should be “ready for surprises.” That was probably our most accurate prediction. Little did we know then, a new coronavirus was already at work. Thus it turned out that, more than anything, a pandemic made the most defining mark on 2020.

With the pandemic as a given, let’s look at some of the defining ideas of 2020.

Magical Thinking

Perhaps above all else, this year brought a whole lot of magical thinking into the news. There was the usual stuff, like macronutrient magic. However, the pandemic brought opportunities to take it up a notch. Nina Teicholz pitched her low-carb dogma as a “strategy for fighting the pandemic.”

It didn’t stop there, though. Many people remained convinced that vitamin D has some magic to offer for treating or preventing COVID-19. But the evidence has not caught up with those visionaries. That didn’t stop advocates for dietary supplements of all kinds “for fighting off COVID-19.” One of the key themes was boosting the immune system through this or that super healthy food.

Politicians got into the act with promises about cures and the magic of warm, sunny weather to make the virus disappear like magic. But that magical thinking did not work out well for us.


The pandemic brought disparities of health and wealth into sharper focus than ever. Despite lots of talk about “essential workers,” it became plain that this term of art was something of a euphemism. Low-wage workers deemed essential had the biggest risk for death in the pandemic, often little protection, and when they did get sick, poor access to care.

COVID magnified long standing health disparities because chronic diseases that are more prevalent in Black, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged communities put these people at risk for bad outcomes if they get infected.

Better Options for Youth with Obesity

This was a year that brought more and better options for young people with obesity. For decades now, the focus in childhood obesity has been solely on prevention. As important as prevention is, ignoring treatment for youth with severe obesity leaves six million kids with nowhere to turn. So it was good news indeed to see both liraglutide and setmelanotide approved for treating obesity in our youth. More and more data on bariatric surgery in adolescents continued to emerge this year. Thus, the use of this very effective tool continues to gain acceptance for teens it can greatly benefit.


With so much magical thinking, objectivity was quite a challenge this year. Misinformation and disinformation appeared everywhere we turned. In difficult times, appealing lies find disturbingly easy acceptance. Even counting and measuring things can be a subjective exercise, we learned. In short, 2020 gave us a strong lesson in the capacity of humans to rationalize anything.

Commitment to Fighting Weight Stigma

Most notably, Obesity Care Week 2020 brought a global commitment to ending weight stigma. As a defining moment for 2020, this one is quite important. It is a daunting challenge, but the breadth of this commitment is impressive. In the U.S., we’re seeing progress with explicit bias. But that has not yet become apparent in other places, such as the U.K. In addition, implicit bias and stereotyping continue to pop up everywhere – even in scientific journals that should do better.

We have much work ahead before we truly put an end to weight stigma.

Artifact, photograph © Ted Kyle / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


December 21, 2020