As many as one in ten asthma cases is caused by being overweight, experts say – and the obesity crisis may only make figures worse.
A tenth of asthmatic kids could avoid symptoms of the respiratory condition if they lost weight.
Around one in four British children are overweight or obese while one in 11 are asthmatic.
Lead author Dr Jason Lang, associate professor of paediatrics of Duke University, said: “Asthma is the number one chronic disease in children and some of the causes such as genetics and viral infections during childhood are things we can't prevent
“Obesity may be the only risk factor for childhood asthma that could be preventable.
“This is another piece of evidence that keeping kids active and at a healthy weight is important.”
Dr Lang and his colleagues analysed the medical records of 507,496 US children from more than 19 million doctor's visits.
Those classified as having asthma had been diagnosed at two or more doctor's appointments and had also received a prescription for the condition, such as an inhaler.
Tests of their lung function also confirmed they had the disease.
Children classified as obese – those with a body-mass index (BMI) in the 95th percentile or above for their age and sex – had a 30 per cent increased risk of developing asthma than peers of a healthy weight.
Children who were classified as overweight – with a BMI in the top 85th percentile – were 17 per cent more likely to develop asthma.
It’s not known exactly why the risk is increased, but experts believe children’s lungs and airways may develop differently when they’re obese or overweight.
Obesity may also raise inflammatory markers in the body, which has been linked to asthma.
A LUNG CONDITION THAT CAUSES BREATHING DIFFICULTIES
Asthma affects people of all ages and often starts in childhood, although it can also appear for the first time in adults.
It is caused by inflammation of the breathing tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs.
This inflammation makes the breathing tubes highly sensitive, so they temporarily become narrow.
This may occur randomly, or after exposure to a trigger like dust, pollen, smoke and even exercise.
The main symptoms include
- a tight chest
Symptoms can sometimes get temporarily worse, this is known as an asthma attack.
There is no known cure for asthma but the symptoms can be managed with a number of treatments.
Most asthma treatments are taken using an inhaler, a small device that delivers a spray or powder medicine to your breathing tubes as you breathe in.
The main treatments are:
- avoiding potential triggers
- reliever inhalers – inhalers used when needed to quickly relieve asthma symptoms for a short time
- preventer inhalers – inhalers used every day to reduce the inflammation in the breathing tubes
Source: NHS Choices
Dr Terri Finkel, from Nemours Children's Hospital in Orlando, said: “Paediatric asthma is among the most prevalent childhood conditions and comes at a high cost to patients, families and the greater health system.
“There are few preventable risk factors to reduce the incidence of asthma, but our data show that reducing the onset of childhood obesity could significantly lower the public health burden of asthma.
“Addressing childhood obesity should be a priority to help improve the quality of life of children and help reduce paediatric asthma.
“This is the first study of its kind, looking at obesity and the risk of developing asthma entirely in a paediatric population, and is made possible through the PEDSnet data collaboration.”
Lead author Prof Lang added more experiments are needed to prove overweight and obesity directly cause changes that lead to asthma because scientists don't completely understand how or why this would occur.
Dr Samantha Walker, director of research and policy at Asthma UK, said: "Obesity is a barrier to good health and this study shows that as well as causing heart conditions and diabetes, it could cause asthma in children too.
"Asthma is a life-long condition that affects an estimated 1.1 million children in the UK, leaving them gasping for breath and at risk of dying from an asthma attack.
"Every child should have the chance to a healthy life that is free from asthma, which is why it's vital that obesity is tackled and children are encouraged to exercise.
"Children who already have asthma should not be frightened to exercise because of their condition.
"Parents concerned about their children's asthma health should make sure their child takes their medicines as prescribed, follow a written asthma action plan and attend an annual review with a GP or asthma nurse."
The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.
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