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Thursday, 18 October, 2001, 00:38 GMT 01:38 UK
Asthma and obesity 'link'
The link between childhood obesity and asthma is being examined
The link between childhood obesity and asthma is being examined
The increase in childhood asthma may be explained by the rise in obesity, a US study has suggested.

Rates of both have shot up dramatically in recent decades in the West.

The number of youngsters in the UK considered fat or obese has almost doubled in the last decade.

Over 5m people are currently being treated for asthma, compared to 3.4m in 1999.

The researchers found the fattest children were 77% more likely to have asthma symptoms.

They suggest increased weight might lead to inflammation in the respiratory tract, which could be the key factor in inducing asthma.


Appropriate strategies for the reduction of body weight in children may contribute to a reduced incidence of asthma in childhood

Dr Erika von Mutius, University Children's Hospital, Munich
The way weight affects the lungs could also affect the airways, leading to a child developing asthma symptoms.

The mechanical impact of the weight on the lungs could compromise the airways, causing increased responsiveness which is a hallmark of asthma, the researchers add.

Seven and a half thousand children, aged between four and 17, took part in the US National Health and Nutrition Study, which began in 1988 and was carried out over six years.

Parents were asked about factors including children's exposure to tobacco smoke, their birthweight and if they were breastfed, factors which could have affected their asthma risk.

Heights and weights were measured, and their body mass index calculated.

Increased obesity

A person's body mass index is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in metres squared. A BMI of more than 30 is considered obese.

Children were also given skin prick tests against a battery of potential allergens to test their levels of atopy, or allergic response

But it was found there was no link between obesity and allergies.

The study, by researchers from University Children's Hospital, Munich, Germany and Harvard Medical School, USA, is published in the journal Thorax.

The research team looked at whether the amount of TV viewing, or lack of exercise could have affected asthma rates.

But they found there was no link, and said it was obesity that was important.

'Recent' link

The team, led by Dr Erika von Mutius, of University Children's Hospital, Munich, Germany wrote: "BMI may be an independent risk factor for the development of asthma.

"Appropriate strategies for the reduction of body weight in children may contribute to a reduced incidence of asthma in childhood."


The jury is still out on the link between obesity and asthma in children.

Dr Warren Lenney, British Thoracic Society
However, researchers from the Department of Public Health Sciences at King's College, London say the link between obesity and asthma is recent.

The team, led by Susan Chinn, say the trend in children getting heavier is only recent and does not explain the increase in asthma in children.

They write: "This may be explained by obesity being a marker of recent lifestyle differences now associated with both asthma and obesity."

Dr Warren Lenney, consultant paediatrician and spokesperson for the British Thoracic Society (BTS) said: "This is an interesting study, but the jury is still out on the link between obesity and asthma in children.

"Asthma can affect people of all sizes, and further research is needed into this area to be able to draw firmer conclusions."

A spokeswoman for the National Asthma Campaign said: "It is essential that we find out why more people are getting this disease.

"Lots of factors seem to be associated with the rise in asthma and obesity and lack of exercise are two of the latest areas of interest.

"However the association may not be causal. Reduced exercise and obesity may result from asthma even in the period before diagnosis."

See also:

18 Jan 01 | Health
Obesity asthma risk
04 May 01 | Health
British children getting fatter
05 Jan 01 | Health
Childhood obesity soars in UK
15 Sep 00 | Health
Stress 'makes child asthma worse'
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