How Obesity Affects Asthma

Health Professionals

Obesity continues to show up in research as a significant contributor to many health issues from serious to life-threatening. One such health problem is asthma. Although research is not yet conclusive on the exact causes of asthma, the findings of several studies point the finger at obesity as one of several possible contributors. In addition to being a possible cause of asthma, evidence suggests that obesity may contribute to the severity of the asthma symptoms as well.

What is asthma? defines asthma as “a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways.” When a person is exposed to an asthma trigger, the airways become narrower due to inflammation. The airways fill up with mucus and breathing becomes more difficult.

Asthma is a fairly common disease in the US, with an estimated 17 million people affected. Asthma affects all races with a slightly higher incidence among African Americans. Asthma can affect anyone at any age but tends to be more common in children and is considered the most chronic of childhood illnesses. Asthma can be brought on by a variety of triggers including allergies, environmental pollutants, exposure to cold weather, chemicals and sprays, even exercise. In recent years findings from several studies have added obesity to the list of possible causes.

Research findings

According to, “excess weight makes breathing more difficult for most people, and that may be especially true if you have asthma.” Research was obtained from seven studies conducted that involved over 330,000 participants. The studies indicated numerous ways that obesity affects asthma and also how asthma can inversely affect obesity:

* Research gathered from the studies indicated that “the more excess pounds a person carried, the greater their risk of developing asthma.” Overweight people with a body mass index (BMI) of 25-29 were 40% more likely to develop asthma in a given year than a person with a normal weight (BMI less than 25). Those participants considered obese (BMI 30+) were 92% more likely to develop asthma compared to those with normal weight.

* Excess weight and obesity may also hinder the effectiveness of some asthma medications such as corticosteroids, lessening the effectiveness that the drug has on reducing the inflammation and other symptoms. 


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