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Obesity increases the risk of COVID-19 complications in children, report shows

Recent reports show obesity is one of the main conditions that put children at higher risk when they contract COVID-19.

AUSTIN, Texas — Experts say the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the nation's pediatric obesity rate. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that obesity in children was a determinant for hospitalization. 

The report monitored the number of COVID-infected children and adolescents that went into six separate hospitals between July and August 2021. Of those who were admitted, 77.9% were hospitalized for acute COVID-19. Approximately two-thirds of those aged 12-17 years had obesity.

The study suggests those who are obese or have excess weight have an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. 

Deanna Hoelscher, UT Health School of Public Health dean, said when a child is obese, they usually suffer from poor cardiovascular health, which puts them at higher risk of severe COVID-related complications. 

"The other thing just in general is when you carry more excess weight, whether you're a child or an adult, there's a mechanical sense in terms of breathing, and it makes it a little bit harder to draw breath," said Hoelscher.

Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University Dr. Rexford Ahima agrees. 

"These people usually have preexisting lung dysfunction," said Ahima. "So, they tend to have higher cases of asthma and other respiratory diseases preexisting even before COVID."

Ahima doesn't think obesity rates will go down any time soon. 

"With the economy behaving the way it is and with inflation, the concern is that this problem is going to be exacerbated, going to get worse," he added.

Because food prices are going up, some parents will resort to buying higher calorie, less nutritious foods.

Dr. Ahima said that's one of many things that need to be addressed when dealing with a child's weight gain.

"So food quality is important and physical activity is important," he added. "You add that too and other behavior changes, sleep well, eating the right way, and so on."

Hoelscher said if you want to see a change, it all starts at home.

"Parents can be good role models for their kids," she said. "So, one of the easy ways is preparing foods at home. You don't have to have to be a gourmet chef. You know, you can set to a few standard recipes that you have and prepare healthy meals and have your kids participate in that as well."

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