Obesity and Asthma: Is There a Link?

Experts have known for some time that there is a connection between obesity and asthma. Both of these conditions are serious public health problems in the United States. According to the 2018 Asthma Fact Sheet from the Environmental Protection Agency, nearly 25 million people have asthma in the U.S.  6 million of them are children. At the same time, obesity affects 93 million adults and almost 14 million children today.

In addition, many studies have revealed that obesity is even more prevalent in the asthma population than in those who do not have asthma.3 The question arises, which comes first? Asthma or obesity?

For some time, it's been an accepted idea that obesity is a risk factor for asthma. In other words, if you are obese, then you are more likely to develop asthma than people whose weight is in a healthy range. But new research suggests that the opposite may also be true. Asthma may be a risk factor for becoming obese.

Let's take a closer look.

Obesity as a risk factor for asthma

First, how do we define obesity? We use a measurement called Body Mass Index, or BMI for short. BMI is a person's weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in meters.2In adults, a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight. If the measurement is 30 or greater, you are considered to be obese. In children and teens, a BMI at or above the 85th percentile and below the 95th percentile for a specific age and gender defines overweight, while anything above the 95th percentile is obese.

In the last couple of decades, the prevalence of both asthma and obesity has been rising steadily. This has prompted research into the possible relationship between the two conditions. Being obese has been proven to be a risk factor in the development of a number of chronic illnesses, including:

  • Asthma
  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Some types of cancer
  • Stroke
  • Poorer mental health

These risks appear to be present in both children and adults. The risk of asthma in obese adults does appear to be greater in females than in men. Experts theorize that the two conditions are related because of the common factors of inflammation and an altered immune system.

However, researchers now believe that the relationship between asthma and obesity may be more complicated than originally believed.

New study suggests asthma may lead to obesity

New research, presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress this month, suggests that people who develop asthma as adults, as well as those with non-allergic asthma are most at risk for also developing obesity.1

Here are some of the details of the study:

  • Data was gathered from the European Community Respiratory Health Survey
  • Included 8,618 people from 12 countries who were not obese at the start of the research
  • All participants had asthma and were on medication for it and/or had had an asthma attack in the past 12 months
  • Study began in the 1990s and data was gathered again at year 10 and year 20
  • Other risk factors, such as age, sex, country and level of physical activity were ruled out

And here is what they found:

  • 10.2% of people with asthma at the start of the study had become obese at the 10-year mark
  • In contrast, only 7.7% of people without asthma were obese after 10 years
  • The increase in obesity was greater in asthmatics diagnosed in adulthood and in those with non-allergic asthma

Researchers emphasize that more study is needed to better understand why asthma might increase the prevalence of obesity.1

In summary

Clearly, there is still much we don't know about asthma and its relationship to obesity. We know that people who are obese may go on to develop asthma in the future, whether adult of child. So, it makes sense to focus on reducing obesity in our nation. This can only raise our overall level of health.

But for those who already have asthma but who are not obese especially adults, it is also wise to take steps to keep your weight in a healthy range. Making the right dietary choices today may greatly enhance your respiratory health in the future.

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