The Link Between Early Life Asthma and Childhood Obesity

Asthma and Obesity have now been recognized as two of the most common pediatric conditions all around the world and studies show that these two conditions have increased significantly over the last 10 years or so. This is seen more in the developed nations. Estimates show that 1 in about 10 children have asthma. With regard to childhood obesity, the CDC report mentions that 17% of children in United States are obese or overweight. Studies show that asthma and childhood obesity occurs concurrently but it is not clear whether asthma causes a child to become obese.[1,2,3]

However, a latest research done at University of Southern California studies the link of asthma or asthma medications on childhood obesity. The CDC has mentioned in 2015 itself that obesity in children is a major risk factor for asthma. This observation has been made on the basis of various factors including changes in lung mechanics, dietary intake, low physical activity, and other comorbidities.[1,2,3]

Additionally, increased weight in children with asthma is also associated with inadequate response to medications and a poor quality of life.[1,2,3] This article highlights the link between childhood obesity and asthma.

The Link Between Early Life Asthma and Childhood Obesity

To establish the link between childhood obesity and asthma, a research was carried out at the University of Southern California. In this study, data and medical records of about 2000 non-obese children between the age of 5 and 8 was analyzed. These children were enrolled in the Southern California Children Health Study and were closely followed medically for 10 years.[3]

The Children’s Health Study or the CHS which normally deals with the effects of air pollution on the overall health of children. The researchers analyzed data of 10 years of the children enrolled in the study. During this time frame, the child’s height and eight were monitored and noted on a yearly basis. The weights were divided into normal, overweight, and obese.[3]

A child was put in the overweight or obese category if the body mass index of the child was between the 85th and 95th percentile. The researchers also assessed the status of asthma utilizing the physician’s diagnosis as and when reported by the parents. The parents were also made to fill out questionnaires in which questions like exposure to second hand smoke and other allergens along with level of physical activity of the child were asked. The parents were also asked to fill out information of any respiratory illness that the child may have had a history of.[3]

During the initial period, about 18% of children were overweight or obese and about 14% were diagnosed with asthma. Over the course of several follow-ups around 16% became obese. After all environmental and statistical adjustments it was deemed that childhood asthma did have a role to play in the child becoming obese or overweight.

Thus a clear link was established between childhood asthma and obesity. In children with childhood asthma, obesity developed generally during the adolescent years.[3] When compared to children who did not have asthma and were not obese, the non-obese children with asthma were 50% more likely to develop obesity in the subsequent years. There was no change in the results of the study even after significant statistical and other adjustments. Also, children who had a history of wheezing also were about 40% higher at risk for developing obesity.[3]

With regard to the link between asthma medications and obesity, another interesting fact came out. It was observed that asthma medications like inhalers significantly reduced the risk of childhood obesity. This was independent of any increase in physical activity.[3]

What Is The Significance Of The Study Linking Childhood Asthma To Obesity?

There are not a lot of studies that have been done to study the link between childhood asthma and obesity. The primary limitation of the study was that all the information that was analyzed was self-reported and there was very limited information regarding the physical activity and diet patterns of the children enrolled in the study.[3]

Another finding of the study was that a combination of asthma and obesity can trigger off other medical conditions like diabetes in such children as they became adults. Another topic that the study was not able to address was that it did not say for sure that childhood asthma was the primary reason for obesity in children even though it increased the likelihood of it.[3]

Even though it could be that respiratory problems which limits the physical activity that children can do in terms of playing when compared to healthy children, the study took into account these limitations and still came up with the results as described above.[3]

In conclusion, based on a study conducted by researchers in the University of Southern California, there is a clear link between childhood asthma and obesity. For this, around 2000 children were enrolled and were clinically followed for 10 years. Their height and weight were monitored on an annual basis. The study results showed that children who had asthma were 50% more likely to develop obesity with time when compared to others.[1,2,3]

Another interesting fact that came out from the study was that children who took rescue inhalers and medications for asthma had significantly decreased risk for obesity. Thus it became pretty clear from the study that childhood asthma had a clear relationship with obesity.[1,2,3]

However, there were also certain limitations of the study. The first and foremost was that all the data that was analyzed was self-reported. Additionally, it is still not clear whether childhood asthma was the primary causative factor for obesity in children even though it increased the risk significantly.[1,2,3]