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Doctors say pediatric obesity can lead to more health risks if child is diagnosed with COVID-19

Obesity weakens the immune system and put pressure on the lungs to function properly, according to two doctors Local 5 spoke with.

IOWA, USA — Throughout the pandemic, health experts have shared a concerning trend over the rising obesity rate among children

"Unfortunately with the pandemic a lot of the risk factors for pediatric obesity have gotten worse," said Dr. Nicole Gilg Gachiani with Broadlawns Medical Center.

At the beginning of the pandemic, experts say the obesity rate rose roughly 3% and hasn't let up. 

"As kids grow we expect they gain weight and get taller but we're seeing that kids are almost doubling what their kind of anticipated weight gain would be," said Dr. Courtney Reints with Blank Children's Hospital.

On top of health risks like developing diabetes, doctors say this added weight could also mean the child would face difficult obstacles if diagnosed with COVID-19. 

"Pediatric obesity and having that higher weight, particularly depending upon where it is proportioned, can make it harder to breathe and make it harder for your lungs to function normally," Gilg Gachiani said. "Which of course is a huge concern with COVID-19 given the respiratory symptoms that it causes."

"Just structurally, the fat tissue can make the lungs have to work that much harder," Reints added. "In addition, obesity puts a large amount of stress on the body so it can weaken the immune response."

Health experts in Iowa say for children who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, those that fall into the obese percentile seem to struggle more throughout their recovery. 

"They're more at risk of having the need for ventilation," Reints said. "Increased clotting risks, so more likely to develop a blood clot more likely to need maybe ventilation assistance."

Doctors say another key is making better food choices: don't graze or snack all day, and eat full meals.

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