One Breath Says All About Kids' Weight

Overweight and obese children have unique breath contents compared to leaner kids

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Kids' breath can tell a lot about what they ate or how well they care for their teeth. The molecules that make up their breath might also reveal whether they are at risk for being overweight or obese.

A study presented at a conference found that overweight and obese children had a unique pattern of exhaled breath compared to lean children.

Though the findings still need to be reviewed, the researchers said that the results could shed more light on the causes and complications of childhood obesity and how to combat the risk early on.

"Play with your kids to get them active."

Naim Alkhouri, MD, from the Digestive Disease Institute and the Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital in Ohio, and colleagues investigated the changes in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in overweight children compared to lean children.

Volatile organic compounds are gases emitted from certain solids and liquids. They reflect a person's metabolism, or how fast energy is burned.

These compounds occur naturally, but some are manmade and can be toxic. And some are linked with diabetes and fatty liver diseases.

This study included 115 children recruited from the Pediatric Preventive Cardiology and Metabolic Clinic and the General Pediatric Clinic.

More than half of the children were overweight or obese and 55 were normal weight.

The overweight children were about 14 years old on average and more likely to be Caucasian than the normal weight kids, who averaged 12 years of age.

Each of the children exhaled a single breath into an ion flow tube to be analyzed.

The researchers found that the overweight and obese children emitted different concentrations of more than 50 compounds.

"Obese children have a unique pattern of exhaled VOCs compared to lean controls," the researchers wrote in their report. "Changes in VOCs observed in this study may help to gain insight into pathophysiological processes and pathways leading to the development of childhood obesity and its complications."

Specifically, obese children emitted higher levels of breath isoprene, 1-octene, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide than the normal weight children. The test identified obese children 92 percent of the time.

"The findings promise to shed more light on the causes and complications of childhood obesity," Dr. Alkhouri said in a press release. "Ultimately, this could have huge implications for early interventions for obesity-related complications that could be effectively targeted to combat risk as these children get older."

Future research to validate the findings is needed, the researchers wrote in their report.

The study, which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, was presented May 18 during Digestive Diseases Week in Orlando. The Cleveland Clinic Respiratory Institute and the Ohio Third Frontier program funded the study.

One of the authors was on an advising or review panel for Gilead Science Inc. and spoke or taught for Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Merck & Co.

Another author was a consultant for Cleveland Heart Lab, Liposcience, Esperion and Abbott Laboratories. The other researchers had nothing to disclose.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 17, 2013
Last Updated:
August 12, 2013