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Rising Crisis of Asthma and Obesity -- Coincidence?


WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

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Oct. 22, 2001 -- Two already common medical problems -- obesity and asthma -- continue to affect more children in the U.S., and the simultaneous rise may not be a fluke, according to a new study.

Previous medical research has implicated our growing waistlines as one cause behind the increasing problem of asthma. And now, researchers are getting closer to pinpointing the exact cause behind this link.

Harvard researcher Scott T. Weiss, MD, and colleagues studied more than 7,000 4- to 17-year-olds and looked at several factors that have previously been linked to asthma, including the children's weight.

They found that kids who were overweight were almost twice as likely to develop asthma as normal-weight kids.

But how does obesity actually cause asthma?

In people with asthma, wheezing and shortness of breath occurs when the airways in the lungs begin to close, becoming smaller and not allowing enough air to get down into the lungs. The airways may also become inflamed, which leads to mucus blocking the airways.

Although this will be the focus of future research, the researchers suggest that excess weight may put more stress and pressure on the airways in the lungs, thus causing them to close. In addition, it's possible, they say, that obesity increases the body's reaction to substances in the environment that cause asthma, thus leading to more mucus production.

The increasing problem of obesity in the U.S. is well known. And the list of medical problems linked to obesity continues to grow:

  • Heart disease -- through excess stress on the heart and high cholesterol
  • Arthritis -- especially of the knee, due to extra weight and wear and tear on the knees
  • Diabetes -- from inability of the hormone insulin to keep blood sugar levels down
  • Sleep apnea -- when breathing stops temporarily during sleep due to excess weight on airways
  • Asthma -- possibly from added pressure and increased inflammation on the airways

It's unlikely that overweight people need another reason to shed some unwanted pounds, but studies such as this serve as a great reminder of how problems that are ignored might come back to haunt them in ways never imagined.

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