Which Comes First, the Weight or the Wheeze?
Asthma and obesity are very common in the United States today. Asthma affects 20 million Americans. Obesity affects 61 million. Although there appears to be a connection between asthma and obesity, no one is sure what the exact association is. Is obesity causing asthma or is asthma causing obesity? Or is it they are just two common medical conditions that happen to coexist?
Most have presumed that the asthma comes first, limiting activity, making it difficult to exercise, leading to obesity. Or does the obesity come first? Obesity makes it harder to breathe. Because of the extra fat, the respiratory muscles have to work harder to move air in and out. The chest wall does not move as easily as it should. This can cause shortness of breath and wheezing.
The heavier children are, the more likely they are to get asthma. A recent study in the United Kingdom showed that obese children were 77% more likely to have asthma. In the U.S., Hispanic boys and girls of all ages with asthma were more likely to be overweight. Another study, The Tucson Children's Respiratory Study, has found that girls who become obese between the ages of 6-11 may be seven times more likely to develop asthma. Obesity can affect lung growth, resulting in smaller lungs. This effect can cause permanent changes in airway function.
The Third National Heath and Nutrition Examination Survey found that asthma, television watching and BMI (body mass index, a measure of total body fat) each independently predict the development of youth obesity. So, our sedentary lifestyle may set our children up to develop both asthma and obesity. There is a long-standing myth that patients with asthma should not exercise. Unfortunately, this myth could be responsible for the obesity/asthma connection. Lose weight and your asthma may improve. There may even be improvement without weight loss just by exercising and becoming more fit.
If you are obese and have asthma, you are more likely to have severe asthma. According to a recent study at Emory University, obese patients were 66% more likely to report continuous symptoms, 36% more likely to miss work and 50% more likely to require higher doses of medicines and emergency room visits.
Some research suggests that obesity may trigger asthma through hormones. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), women are 7% more likely to have asthma then men. There may be more than just sex hormones at play. Leptin is a hormone produced by fat tissue that regulates eating behavior. Researchers in Japan have found higher levels of leptin in children with allergies, asthma and obesity. Leptin has anti-inflammatory properties that may be involved in the control of asthma. Asthma and obesity are serious chronic illnesses. If you suffer from both, starting an exercise program and weight reduction plan, along with a good asthma control, can help you improve your quality of life. Get fit! Your asthma may benefit.