Early-Life Asthma Increases Risk of Childhood Obesity

Lauren Santye, Assistant Editor
Published Online: Tuesday, January 24th, 2017
Children with asthma were 51% more likely to become obese later in childhood or adolescence than children without asthma, according to the results of a prospective study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

“Asthma and obesity often occur together in children, but it is unclear whether children with asthma are at higher risk for onset of obesity or whether obese children develop asthma, or both,” said lead author Zhanghua Chen, PhD. “Our findings add to the literature that early-life asthma history may lead to increased risk of childhood obesity.”

The investigators analyzed the records of 2171 kindergarteners and first graders who were not obese at time of enrollment in the Southern California Children’s Health Study (CHS). At the start of enrollment, 13.5% of the children had asthma.

Multiple factors were taken into account, including health insurance, overweight at enrollment, ethnicity, family income, physical activity, and smoking exposure at home.

The children were followed for up to 10 years, of which, 15.8% of all the children developed obesity. The investigators confirmed their findings in a different group of children in the fourth grade.

Overall, young children with asthma were 51% more likely to become obese over the next decade than children without asthma. The use of asthma medications reduced the risk of obesity by 43%.

The investigators were surprised to find that rescue––but not controller––asthma medications reduced the risk of developing obesity, and noted that more research is needed.

Senior author Frank D. Gilliland, MD, PhD, said the study results reinforce the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of asthma, which could put a stop to “the vicious cycle of asthma increasing the development of obesity, and obesity causing increased asthma symptoms.”

Limitations to the study were reliance on parents to report asthma diagnosis, limited information about exercise, and no information about diet. Despite these limitations, the findings suggest strategies to improve overall health and reduce the risk of obesity in children with asthma.

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