New research, whose findings are published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, shows that obesity, in addition to being a risk factor for coronavirus infection in adults, also increases the chances of having a severe form of COVID-19 in children who are overweight or obese.
The researchers reached this conclusion after analyzing fifty cases of children with a coronavirus infection that had reached a critical or severe stage and required immediate hospitalization.
According to the findings of the study, around twenty-two percent of the children out of the fifty were obese. Additionally, six in nine children who required a ventilator for breathing were also seen to be overweight.
Previously research has already established that obesity can significantly increase the risk of having severe coronavirus infection in adults along with other risk factors.
The leading author of the research, Dr. Philip Zachariah, who is a pediatrician at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City, explained how many hospitals across New York had already reported childhood obesity to be a common health condition in cases of children who had been hospitalized for having the coronavirus infection.
A pediatrician-in-chief at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, N.Y, Dr. Charles Schleien, further added that “We found even higher rates of obesity in the kids that were really sick,”
“This actually is not unlike the adults, where obesity also played a key role in the severity of disease if you contracted the virus.”
In the new research, the team led by Dr. Zachariah examined fifty cases of children and teenagers under the age of twenty-one. Nine out of the total cases reached a critical or severe stage.
Children who were fourteen and older were more likely to have more severe symptoms of the coronavirus infection in comparison with younger children, the researchers found.
On the other hand, infants were the least likely to develop a severe form of COVID-19 with none them experiencing serious symptoms in the study.
In the children who had a severe form of coronavirus infection, signs including difficulty in breathing, a high fever, pressure in the chest were common. Overall, around forty-four of the cases were also seen to have gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea and stomach pain.
Though these findings show that childhood obesity is yet another factor that can increase the risk of severe COVID-19, the good news is that the researchers found that children with immune-suppressing health conditions did not have an increased risk of contracting the infection.
Similarly, the researchers also noted that most of the children, even those with a severe form of coronavirus infection, were likely to recover within a period of three days and get discharged from the hospital.
However, nearly one-third of the cases were critical and required breathing aids such as a ventilator to survive. Two of the cases also reached an extremely dangerous stage where the children had a cardiac arrest after a fall in blood oxygen levels.
One out of these two cases was fatal. According to the researchers, this may have occurred due to a blood clot as research has established that the coronavirus infection does increase the risk of blood clotting.
In fifteen of the children, hydroxychloroquine, which was a drug previously hyped for its potential benefits for COVID-19 was also used but the results remained the same and it was deemed to be ineffective.
The final conclusion given by the researchers stated that the study confirms some of the previous findings from other studies such as while some of the children may develop a severe illness, the majority is not likely to have few symptoms but it also adds that childhood obesity can be a big factor and cause the infection to reach a very critical stage.