Hamburgers Linked to Asthma Risk in Kids

Study Shows Higher Risk for Asthma in Kids Who Eat 3 or More Burgers a Week

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on June 04, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

June 4, 2010 -- Need another reason to cut down on those visits to the fast-food drive-through?

New research shows that kids who eat three or more burgers a week have a higher risk for developing asthma and wheezing than kids who eat fewer burgers.

Conversely, asthma risk was lower for children whose diets more closely adhered to the Mediterranean way of eating -- with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and fish.

The research is based on data from about 50,000 children living in developed, middle-income, and low-income countries.

While diet did not appear to influence the risk for common non-food allergies, such as those triggered by tree or grass pollen, diet did appear to play a role in asthma risk.

But whether the role is direct or indirect is not clear, study researcher Gabriele Nagel, PhD, of Germany's Ulm University tells WebMD.

"It is possible that in higher-income countries, burger consumption is a proxy for obesity, which is a known risk factor for asthma," she says.

The association was not seen in poorer countries, where burger consumption may be associated with higher economic status and not so much with obesity, she added.

And meat consumption in general did not appear to influence asthma risk.

According to Nagel, kids in developed countries who ate three or more burgers a week had about a 40% greater chance of developing asthma than kids who never ate burgers or ate them only occasionally.

Eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and fish was associated with a lower chance of developing asthma and wheezing.

The study appears in the latest issue of the journal Thorax.

Fruits and vegetables are good sources of antioxidant vitamins, and fish is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Antioxidants and omega-3 both have anti-inflammatory properties.

Inflammation in the airways triggers asthma-related breathing problems as well as wheezing and coughing.

Nagel says it may be that some fats, such as omega-3, are protective against asthma, while others, like the saturated fat in burgers, promote asthma by causing inflammation.

High-Fat vs. Low-Fat Meals

In another recently reported study, asthma patients who ate a high-fat, high-calorie meal consisting of burgers and hash browns had more inflammation in their airways than patients who ate a low-fat, low-calorie meal of yogurt.

The people who ate the high-fat meal also showed less improvement in lung function when treated with the asthma drug albuterol. The study was reported May 16 in New Orleans at an international conference hosted by American Thoracic Society.

American Lung Association Chief Medical Officer Norman Edelman, MD, says the high-fat diet-asthma link remains to be proven, but it is clear that obesity increases asthma risk.

"It is hard to understand why burgers were associated with asthma risk in this study and not meat consumption in general," he tells WebMD. "But if three or more hamburgers meant these kids were likely to weigh more that could certainly explain the association."

Edelman added that the protective benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet are easier to understand.

"There is some evidence that antioxidants like those found in fruits and leafy-green vegetables are good for lung health and protective against asthma," he says.

WebMD Health News



Nagel, G. Thorax, June 2020; vol 65: pp 516-522.

Gabriele Nagel, PhD, associate professor, Institute of Epidemiology, Ulm University, Germany.

Norman Edelman, MD, chief medical officer, American Lung Association; professor of medicine, Stony Brook University, N.Y.

News release, BMJ.

News release, American Thoracic Society.

American Thoracic Society International Conference, New Orleans, May 14-19, 2010.

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