Childhood Obesity and the Asthma Epidemic

  • Over the past few decades, the incidence of both childhood obesity and asthma in kids has increased at an alarming rate. Experts have been suggesting there might be a link between these two health issues. Now a newly published study from Bristol University in the UK has found a strong relationship between body mass index (BMI, a standard measure for obesity) and the risk for asthma. In fact, the study reports that "the relative risk of asthma increased by 55 percent for every extra unit of body mass index (BMI)."


    Let's take a closer look at some of the facts.


    Childhood Obesity Statistics in the United States

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    According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

    • Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
    • The percentage of children aged 6 to 11 years in the U.S. who were obese increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2012.
    • The percentage of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years who were obese increased from 5 percent to nearly 21 percent over the same period.


    In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.


    Those are some pretty sobering statistics, aren't they?


    Asthma Statistics in Kids in the U.S.


    According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI):

    • Nearly 9 million children in the U.S. have asthma -- this is 1 out of every 10 children.
    • The prevalance of asthma in both kids and adults is increasing every single year.
    • From 2001 through 2009 asthma rates rose the most among African-American children, almost a 50 percent increase.


    Staggering Health Risks


    Obesity and asthma each carry tremendous risks to a child's daily health status, their quality of life, and their future. When a child suffers from both conditions, the risks obviously are even more significant.


    Kids who are obese have more cardiovascular problems, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. As overweight kids enter their pre-teen and teen years, they also face a greater risk for pre-diabetes, a condition that often leads to full-blown diabetes.


    They are also at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological stigmas leading to poor self-esteem. And obese children often become obese adults, who are more at risk for adult health problems, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.


    Kids who have asthma also face health risks. More than half of the children with asthma in the U.S. will have at least one severe asthma attack in a year. Such attacks often lead to emergent care or even hospitalization. They are also at a greater risk for respiratory infections, the flu and acid reflux.


    Quality of life is also at risk -- kids with asthma generally miss at least four or five days of school each year, not to mention countless social opportunities.


    What This New Study Found


    Now, this latest study uses both genetic information and observational data to assess whether a child's BMI had any kind of causal effect on asthma. Here are the details of the study:

    • 4,835 children who had been diagnosed with asthma by the age of 7.5 years and who were already in a long-term study were examined more closely.
    • They were given a weighted genetic score based on 32 independent BMI-related DNA sequence variations.
    • Researchers looked for links with BMI, fat and lean mass, and with asthma.
    • They concluded from their research that the higher the BMI score, the greater the risk of developing asthma by mid-childhood.
    • The study outcomes also suggested that the amount of lean body mass had an influence on asthma. This influence does not seem to be directly related to the inflammatory effects of obesity.


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    In Summary


    Both obesity and asthma can interfere with a child's health status and quality of life during childhood, as well as with their future health as an adult. But linked together, those risks increase greatly.


    This study begins to explain some of the possible causes for the acceleration of asthma into an epidemic worldwide over the past few decades. More studies along these lines are certainly needed.


    But, for now, any public health interventions that can be made to reduce the rate of childhood obesity may also help to limit further rises in childhood asthma rates.  And on a more personal level, any actions parents can take to help their kids get their BMIs within normal limits will have many health benefits, including reducing risk for asthma.

Published On: August 06, 2014