Weight May Trigger Asthma in Kids

Childhood obesity may cause chronic narrowing of airways according to new study

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) There’s an established and complex link between asthma and obesity. But which one comes first in children?

Researchers have long discussed the connection between obesity and asthma, and some have more recently discussed the link between the two conditions in kids.

Drawing from existing research, a new study suggests that childhood obesity may lead to asthma.

"Discuss weight management with your child’s pediatrician."

Allergist Perdita Permaul, MD, led this research, which looked at the link between childhood obesity and asthma, a chronic lung condition that narrows the airways.

The study authors suggested that childhood obesity likely contributes to asthma — instead of the other way around.

For their study, Dr. Permaul and team drew on past data on adults that found being overweight preceded asthma. They reviewed 28 published studies and papers.

“There isn’t as much evidence for children, but the progression from obesity to asthma, rather than the other way around, seems probable,” Dr. Permaul said in a press release.

The authors wrote that prenatal and early infant diets with lots of fruits, veggies, fish and legumes may help prevent childhood asthma.

"I do believe that there is a link between obesity and asthma. This is seen quite often in my private practice," said Thomas Seman, MD, a pediatrician at North Shore Pediatrics in Danvers, Mass.

"An issue such as this has to be addressed as soon as possible because children do not like feeling uncomfortable. If they are having a hard time breathing while playing/exercising, they will not look forward to this activity and become more sedentary. This, in turn, increases their weight and they have further issues. When cold season comes around, their asthma increases and they, once again, decrease activity," Dr. Seman told dailyRx News. "A truly vicious circle."

"It is hard to get some parents on board with this since they think 1) the child is just making things up or 2) that they do not hear any wheezing in the child," said Dr. Seman, who was not involved in this study.

"Most often the sign for asthma is a cough," he said. "The wheeze is usually not audible unless the lungs are being listened to with a stethescope. So if there is coughing either during or right after exercise, the child should be evaluated for asthma. After intervention, a slow increase in the exercise routine gives the child the confidence that he/she can do it and is very important for increasing activity in the long run, as is caring for the asthma."

Dr. Permaul and team found that rapid growth in body mass index (BMI) during the first two years of life increased the risk of asthma up to age 6.

BMI is a height- and weight-based measure of body fat. A BMI of 25 or more is considered overweight.

The researchers described the effect of obesity on breathing. Being overweight could cause airways to narrow, leading to asthma.

The other side of the relationship is that asthma could make exercise more difficult for kids, which could lead to weight gain.

The authors noted a lack of data related to the lung volume capacity in obese children. They called for more study on the topic.

The study was published online Sept. 3 in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

The National Institutes of Health and the Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center at Harvard University funded the study. The authors did not report any conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
September 9, 2014
Last Updated:
September 10, 2014