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Study: Heavy Children at Higher Risk of Asthma

Obese asthmatic kids also more likely to visit emergency room

BHM Edit Staff | 8/23/2013, midnight
Heavy kids more likely to have severe asthma.

Children who are overweight and obese are more likely to be diagnosed with asthma, say the findings of a new study. Those who have the lung condition have more severe cases of it than youngsters who are normal weight. In addition, heavier kids and teens with asthma have more frequent emergency room visits and use more rescue medications.

“If parents are noticing that their overweight or obese child is having asthma-like symptoms, one thing to pay attention to, instead of just addressing the asthma, is to address the child’s weight,” says study lead author Mary Helen Black, the study's lead author of Kaiser Permanente Southern California’s department of research and evaluation.

For their study, Black and her colleagues looked through electronic health records of 623,000 6- to 19-year-olds covered by Kaiser’s health plan from 2007 through 2011. None of the children initially had asthma. But by the end of the study, about 32,000 of them were diagnosed with the condition.

The researchers found that the more children weighed, the more likely they were to develop asthma. The overweight (but not obese) kids were 16 percent more likely to be diagnosed with asthma than kids of normal weight. Obese kids were 37 percent more likely to develop asthma.

In the year following diagnosis, 106 out of every 1,000 obese children made a trip to the emergency room and were more likely to need rescue medicines; 87 of every 1,000 slimmer kids with asthma went to the ER.

The researchers believe inflammation seen in obese patients or the extra weight on airways could contribute to asthma risk and severity. “Those who are extremely obese have a more restricted capacity for air exchange,” Black says. “If an extremely obese child is able to get down into even the overweight range, they may have a much greater capacity for breathing normally.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 11 U.S. children has asthma. Black children are 3.6 times more likely to visit the emergency department for asthma, and they have a death rate 7 times that of white children. One in five black children is considered obese.