Asthma and Obesity: A Losing Combination

James Thompson, MD Health Pro
  • Asthma and Childhood Obesity: A Losing Combination

     

    When parents come into my office with their asthmatic children, they often ask these questions:

     

    "If my child loses weight, will he breathe better?"

     

    "My child is having trouble in PE (Physical Education). Will you excuse her from PE this year?"

     

    "Is my child severely overweight? How can I tell?"

     

    Excess Weight Might Worsen Asthma

    Recent studies have focused on the impact that obesity has on lung function. There isn't much evidence, though, showing proportionately more inflammation in the lungs as a child gets heavier. Some investigators have demonstrated that lung mechanics are influenced by weight. A study in Pediatrics (2007;120:805-13), found that asthmatic children, ranging in age from 5 to 12 years old, had a higher risk of being overweight too. They also had more psychological problems (stress and depression). The children were studied for an average of 4.5 years. As they got older, overweight children with asthma had worsening behavioral problems and became even less physically active.

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    Another study in Pediatrics (2007;120:734-740), observed children over 2 years of age arriving at a children's hospital for severe asthma. During the study, researchers noted 813 children and 884 Emergency Department visits for asthma. The investigators found that overweight children were more likely to be hospitalized for asthma. They also found that non-white children were less likely to be hospitalized.

     

    The above studies highlight the importance of appropriately treating and monitoring asthma in order to allow children to be active in PE activities as well as recreational sports and games. Healthy diet and exercise should be emphasized at an early age. If your child is already overweight, seek expertise for advice about programs available for helping children to modify their diet and increase their activity levels.

     

    But Is my child overweight?

    How do you determine if your child is overweight?

     

    First, figure out their Body Mass Index (BMI). There are several online tools that will determine your child's BMI. You just need to enter their height and weight.

     

    Children's BMI are based on gender and age. Children whose BMI falls above the 85th percentile but under 95th percentile are mildly overweight, but children over that 95th percentile are obese.

     

    Answers to parents' questions about weight and asthma

    My reply to the above questions:

     

    "If my child loses weight, will he breathe better?"

    Yes, I believe your child will breathe better and be more responsive to his asthma medications if he loses weight.

     

    "My child is having trouble in PE (Physical Education). Will you excuse her from PE this year?"

    No, your child cannot be excused from gym but I will work with you to get your child's asthma under better control. Perhaps gym activities can be modified to meet your child's needs. There are steps we can take, with medications, to prevent exercise induced asthma.

     

    "Is my child severely overweight? How can I tell?"

    Let's figure out your child's BMI percentile. This is the easiest way to assess the level of body fat. If your child is overweight, we will work with your pediatrician and figure out a suitable program for weight loss. We may need to adjust his asthma medications to improve on his exercise tolerance.

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    Don't give up on your child, and don't stay in denial. It will be much easier - and more beneficial - to help your child, pre-teen and teenager now rather than later on in their lives.

     

    If you allow your child to become or remain obese, their asthma will be more difficult to control and therefore contribute to further weight gain (because of limitations on exercise and activities).

     

    Questions to Ask Yourself and Discuss With Your Doctor

    Do you have concerns or fears about your child's weight and asthma control?

     

    What steps do you intend to take?

     

    Have you already tried and failed?

     

    Do you have other suggestions or experiences?

Published On: March 05, 2008