The Connection Between Obesity & Asthma in Kids

Researchers from a study being released in the upcoming December issue of the Pediatrics medical journal have concluded that obesity is "a major preventable risk factor in childhood asthma."1 We're also seeing a sobering increase in obesity rates2 in children and teenagers. So, this is a serious concern for our national health status.

Let's take a closer look.

Diving Into the Statistics

The Environmental Protection Agency's 2018 Asthma Fact Sheet3 states that:

  • Almost 25 million people have asthma in the U.S.
  • 6 million of them are children
  • Obesity affects 93 million adults
  • 14 million children are obese

The State of Obesity reports explain that childhood obesity rates (from ages 2 to 19) have more than tripled since the 1970s. Rates have increased from 5.5% to 18.5% in that time period.4 The rates vary among different age groups, though, with teens being at greatest risk:

  • In 2 to 5-year-olds, the rate more than doubled, going from 5% to 13.9%
  • Among 6 to 11 year olds, the obesity rates increased from 6.5% to 18.4%
  • In teens age 12 to 19, the rates quadrupled, from 5% to 20.6%

The good news is that the increases have slowed over the past few years. It's also important to note that boys tend slightly more toward obesity than girls. Plus, Latino and Black Americans also have higher rates of obesity. To delve into even more differences in obesity rates by gender, race, age, ethnicity and even sexual orientation, you may want to visit the State of Obesity website.

It's easy to see that both asthma and obesity present significant health issues for a huge number of children in the United States. But are they connected?

Drawing a Link Between Asthma and Obesity

In this post I published last month on asthma and obesity, I discussed a number of studies examining asthma and weight level. Many suggest strongly that obesity is a risk factor for developing asthma. Results show this is true in both adults and children, although "the nature of asthma risk in children is less clear."5

There are even some recent studies suggesting that asthma may be a risk factor for obesity. Clearly, the relationship between these two chronic health conditions is complex.

The new study in the Pediatrics journal provides even stronger evidence for the link between asthma and obesity in children. And it concludes that we might be able to prevent up to 10% of all childhood asthma cases by focusing more on preventing obesity.

Let's look at the study more closely.

Asthma and Obesity in Kids Study Details

The study was conducted by Duke University Health System. Researchers analyzed existing health data for more than 500,000 children from 6 major children's health centers across the U.S. None of the participants were known to have had asthma at the beginning of the data collection period.

This data was collected at physician office visits and entered into the National Pediatric Learning Health System (PEDSnet, for short) between 2009 and 2015. Subsequent asthma diagnoses were confirmed by exam, prescriptions of asthma medication and lung function testing.

Conclusions From the Study

The researchers found that their analysis of the data definitely supported a strong link between obesity and asthma.

  • Kids who were obese had a 30-percent greater risk of developing asthma than their peers at a healthy weight
  • Kids who were merely overweight had a 17-percent greater asthma risk, compared to their healthy-weight peers
  • Obesity could be to blame for 23 to 27 percent of asthma in children

In other words, almost 1 million of our nation's children might have been able to avoid developing asthma. Had they kept their weight in a healthy range for their age and gender, asthma may have never been a factor at all.

Why This Information Matters

Asthma is a leading chronic disease in children. The economic costs of asthma are high. When you consider medical costs and lost school and work days, they number in the tens of billions.6 Then there are quality of life issues to consider, both for the children and their families.

So many risk factors for asthma in children are not preventable. This includes things such as genetic factors, viral infections and environmental triggers. Obesity, however, is preventable, with the proper attention to healthy eating and keeping kids active.

From the study: "Successful interventions which reduce pediatric obesity must be a major public health priority to improve the quality of life of children and reduce obesity’s contribution to pediatric asthma."7

The study authors do emphasize that further research along these lines is needed, to confirm these findings. Still, I think the message is clear. We need to get our kids moving and eating healthier if we want them to avoid asthma!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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