Nearly 10% of all pediatric cases of asthma could be avoided if childhood obesity were eliminated, according to researchers at Nemours Children’s Health System. In raw numbers, almost one million children in the U.S. might have avoided the illness by maintaining a healthy weight.
Asthma is a respiratory condition marked by attacks of spasm in the bronchi of the lungs, causing difficulty in breathing. It is usually connected to an allergic reaction or other forms of hypersensitivity. Usually, the condition is caused by genetics and viral infections during childhood, which cannot be prevented. However, “obesity may be the only risk factor for childhood asthma that could be preventable,” said Jason Lang, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Duke University and the study’s lead author.
For their retrospective study, Land and colleagues analyzed data for 507,496 children aged 2 to 17 gathered from more than 19 million doctor’s visits at six major children’s health centers. Those that were classified as having asthma had been diagnosed at two or more doctor’s appointments and had also received a prescription, such as an inhaler.
According to the findings, obese children had a 30% higher risk of developing asthma than their peers of a healthy weight. Meanwhile, children who were overweight but not obese also had a 17% increased asthma risk. The researchers calculated that 23% to 27% of new asthma cases in children with obesity are directly attributable to obesity. Researchers calculated the risk of asthma in children using several models and adjusted for factors such as sex, age, socioeconomic status, and allergies.
“Pediatric asthma is among the most prevalent childhood conditions and comes at a high cost to patients, families and the greater health system. There are few preventable risk factors to reduce the incidence of asthma, but our data show that reducing the onset of childhood obesity could significantly lower the public health burden of asthma,” said Terri Finkel, Chief Scientific Officer at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando and co-author of the new study. “Addressing childhood obesity should be a priority to help improve the quality of life of children and help reduce pediatric asthma.”
The study suggests that 1 million cases of pediatric asthma, out of 6 to 8 million cases reported in the United States, can be attributed to being overweight and obesity. The researchers write that at least 10% of all US cases of asthma in children might be avoided in the absence of childhood overweight and obesity.
It’s not clear how obesity adds to the risk of developing asthma. Some hypotheses include potential differences in how children’s lungs and airways develop when they are overweight and inflammatory effects in the body due to obesity.
“I think it’s reasonable to be concerned that it’s a causal relationship,” Lang said. “It appears becoming overweight or obese as a child significantly increases your risk of developing asthma, and it’s a significant increase, directing attention again to the importance of preventing obesity at an early age.”
The findings appeared in the journal Pediatrics.