Researchers are learning more about how Covid-19 affects children, and a new study finds that among a group of children and adolescents in New York who were hospitalized with the disease, about a fifth — 22% — had obesity.
The study, published in the journal The Lancet on Wednesday, suggests that having obesity could put a child at an increased risk of getting severely ill with Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
"The significance of obesity as an independent risk factor for severity is now being increasingly described in adult studies of Covid-19, so it was interesting that many of the hospitalized patients in this study had obesity and/or overweight," the researchers, from Columbia University Irving Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York, wrote in the study.
"Obesity was the most significant factor associated with mechanical ventilation in children 2 years and older," the researchers added. "Contrary to some previous reports, infants seemed largely spared severe manifestations."
More on the study: The study included data on 50 young people, ages 21 and younger, who were diagnosed with Covid-19 between March 1 and April 15 and hospitalized for at least a day or longer.
The data, which came from the patients' electronic medical records, showed that about half of the patients — 52% — had an adult family member or was living with someone with symptoms associated with Covid-19. None of the patients had a history of international travel around the time they were diagnosed.
Most of the patients — 80% — had a fever, and 64% had some respiratory symptoms, but three of the patients only experienced gastrointestinal problems, the researchers found. Nine of the patients, or 18% of them, needed mechanical ventilation and one patient died.
Overall, the researchers found that obesity was significantly associated with needing mechanical ventilation among children ages 2 or older. Among the patients who required mechanical ventilation, six of them — 67% — had obesity.
About the study: The study had some limitations, including that the group of patients included in the data was small and half of the patients were Hispanic. The researchers noted that the hospital serves a predominantly Hispanic community. So more research is needed to determine whether similar findings would emerge among a more diverse group of patients.
Yet overall, "studies such as this one emphasize that certain groups of children may be disproportionally affected. In this study, 50% were Hispanic," Dr. Jason Newland of the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, and Dr. Kristina Bryant of the University of Louisville in Kentucky, co-wrote in an editorial that accompanied the new study.
"As the Covid-19 pandemic has spread and created adversity for many people physically, emotionally, and economically, the groups most affected have been those of color," Newland and Bryant wrote.
"Going forward, multicenter collaborative studies are needed to define the infectious and postinfectious sequelae of Covid-19 in children in communities across the US, including rural communities, and in all racial and ethnic groups. We also need to understand the association of the pandemic with adverse health outcomes in children beyond the consequences of viral infection," they wrote.
The researchers noted that on May 15, "the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a precipitous drop in the ordering and administration of pediatric vaccines. Are outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases on the horizon? That could be the next important chapter of the evolving Covid-19 story."