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Obesity and COVID-19: The trends Novant Health doctors are seeing among children and adults

People who are obese are also more likely to have a negative outcome if they contract COVID-19.
Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 6:25 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 22, 2021 at 9:02 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - According to the CDC, more than 40 percent of Americans are obese. The agency defines obesity by any Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than 30.

People who are obese are also more likely to have a negative outcome if they contract COVID-19.

A doctor with Novant Health estimates that at least 9 out of 10 covid patients in the ICU across the state are also obese.

According to a CDC study, the rate of BMI increase in children approximately doubled during the pandemic.

“It’s not very common that I would see a child who was obese on a daily basis, maybe one or two a day,” Novant Health pediatrician Dr. Daniel Donner said of pre-pandemic times. “Now I feel like we’re much closer to the new national average with one in five kids with obesity.”

When schools were closed, many children were getting less exercise and sitting at home eating more unhealthy food.

Dr. Donner says he’s working with families to get them on a healthier track.

“Walking for 30 minutes a day as a family, changing out those processed snacks for fruits and vegetables,” he said.

In addition to healthy eating and exercise habits, he says getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night is critical.

Not only are obesity rates climbing, but according to the CDC, obesity may also triple your risk of being hospitalized due to Covid.

“It seems like just having that extra abdominal body fat and having the imbalances in your hormones that it causes, there seems to be some depression on the immune system and inflammation,” Dr. Donner said. “It’s the inflammation that can lead to bad outcomes.”

Dr. James Warren treats covid patients at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, so he sees these bad outcomes firsthand.

“Patients with a higher body mass index, it’s more difficult to take deep breaths and sometimes it’s more difficult to intubate them or manage their lung function on a ventilator, so it impacts their outcomes in that regard,” Dr. Warren said.

He says in many of these cases, it’s too late.

But if you are at risk for obesity, he suggests getting vaccinated and making a plan and sticking to it.

“The conversation should start with a clinical provider evaluating a patient and getting a full history and really trying to understand that patient fully because there are some disease processes that do affect weight and need to be addressed,” he said.

The issue of hospitalizations also seems to extend to pediatric cases.

Dr. Donner says in the last few months, four of his patients were hospitalized with Covid-19, three of whom are obese.

WBTV reached out to the Mecklenburg County and state health departments to request more specific data when it comes to obesity and hospitalizations.

Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris told WBTV in a statement:

“MCPH does not have data on the number of people who have been tested, diagnosed or hospitalized and have also been diagnosed with obesity. 95% of COVID-19 related deaths in Mecklenburg County have been among those with underlying health conditions, which includes obesity.”

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