Children with asthma are more likely to become obese later in childhood or in adolescence, according to US researchers.
They found young children with asthma were more likely to become obese over the next decade than children who did not have asthma, but also found that the use of asthma rescue medications appeared to reduce the risk of obesity.
“Part of the problem may be a vicious cycle where asthma and obesity negatively affect each other”
The researchers analysed records from 2,171 children who were aged five to eight at the start of the study, which is published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
At the beginning 13.5% of the children in the first group had asthma. During the following decade, 15.8% of the children in the study became obese.
They found young children with asthma were 51% more likely to become obese over the next decade as children who did not have asthma. They also found that the use of asthma rescue medications reduced the risk of becoming obese by 43%.
A similar association between asthma and obesity were replicated in another group of 2,684 older children, who were followed from the age of around 10 to 18 years.
Study limitations included relying on parents to report asthma diagnosis, limited information about exercise and no information about diet. However, despite such factors, the researchers backed the use of common-sense strategies for children with asthma that could improve their overall health while reducing the risk of obesity.
Among those strategies, they said, were eating a healthy diet, increasing physical activity and achieving asthma control through medication and better understanding of symptom triggers.
Lead study author Zhanghua Chen, from the University of Southern California, said: “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.
Asthma and obesity link in children and teenagers
“Our findings add to the literature that early-life asthma history may lead to increased risk of childhood obesity,” she said.
Senior study author Professor Frank Gilliland said the overall findings reinforced the importance of early treatment to prevent “asthma increasing the development of obesity and obesity causing increased asthma symptoms”.
“Early diagnosis and treatment of asthma may help prevent the childhood obesity epidemic,” he said. “Part of the problem may be a vicious cycle where asthma and obesity negatively affect each other.”
However, he added that the fact that rescue, but not control, asthma medications reduced obesity was a surprise and warranted further study.
“Our results also suggest that asthma inhalers may help prevent obesity in children,” he said. “Although this observation warrants further study, it is interesting that the correlation exists irrespective of physical activity and other asthma medication use.”