SEKY December 2021 - Page 51

Obesity is the biggest risk factor for COVID complications in children

By Hilary Brown
LEXINGTON , Ky . — Even though the latest wave of COVID-19 infections appears to be on the decline , the risk to children and adults is still significant . Of the number of risk factors associated with severe COVID-19 , obesity appears to be one of the most prevalent .
According to a recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation , Kentucky ranks number one in childhood obesity . This puts a significant percentage of Kentucky ’ s children and adolescents at risk for severe COVID-19 .
Aurelia Radulescu , M . D ., of Kentucky Children ’ s Hospital Pediatric High BMI Clinic , talks about why obesity is a risk factor and what parents and caregivers can do to protect children .
UKNow : How does obesity affect a child ’ s overall health ?
Radulescu : Obesity is a new disease that we learned more about it in the last 20 years . We learned that obesity in children is associated with several medical complications that are also seen in adults . For example , children with obesity can develop prediabetes or diabetes . They can also have hypertension , dyslipidemia , sleep apnea and fatty liver disease .
All these obesity-associated medical complications place them at high risk for severe health problems later in life .
UKNow : Why is obesity such a big problem in Kentucky ?
Radulescu : One of the most important reasons is that children have limited resources . In Kentucky , we have a large population of children from low-income households who lack access to health care and healthy food . Many children are
counting on the meals offered in school , and those meals are not always healthy . There is limited access to fruits and vegetables . If a child grows without eating a large variety of food and is exposed to unhealthy food over the years , it will be tough to change those taste preferences .
Another reason is that many communities lack resources for children to engage in physical activities . Many schools do not offer gym classes or offer them only once a week . Children may live somewhere where there are no sidewalks , or where it ’ s not safe for them to go outside to play . A lot of children now interact with each other through screen time activities . Instead of playing outside together , they play video games , a sedentary behavior itself .
If we also look at data from the adult population , Kentucky ranks high in obesity there , too . Many children in Kentucky come from families with a strong history of obesity . So it ’ s not just the child ; parents and other siblings may have obesity as well . The combination of a genetic predisposition and an obesogenic environment plays a significant role in developing
Photo credit : ultramansk | iStock / Getty Images Plus obesity .
UKNow : How does obesity contribute to severe COVID-19 ?
Radulescu : We ’ re still learning about COVID-19 , but descriptive and observational studies show a strong link between obesity and severe COVID-19 infections in children . Obesity creates a proinflammatory state in the body . So the adipocytes , the fat cells of a child with obesity , are enlarged and become
December 2021 SEKY - Life in Southeast Kentucky • 51