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Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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Children with Asthma are at Risk from Becoming Obese

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(Photo : Getty Images) Anti-asthma inhaler.

Children with asthma are 51 percent more likely to become obese over the next decade compared to those without asthma, said a study from the University of Southern California published Jan. 20 in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

The study also indicated that children who used asthma inhalers when they had an attack were 43 percent less likely to become obese.

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One of the reasons obesity may be more prevalent in children with asthma is because respiratory problems may cause this population to play and exercise less, though this study accounted for physical activity.

Plus, a side effect of many asthma medications is weight gain. Elevated asthma and obesity may contribute to the development of other metabolic diseases, including prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes in later life.

"Early diagnosis and treatment of asthma may help prevent the childhood obesity epidemic," said Frank Gilliland, senior author of the study and a professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

"Part of the problem may be a vicious cycle where asthma and obesity negatively affect each other. Our results also suggest that asthma inhalers may help prevent obesity in children. Although this observation warrants further study, it is interesting that the correlation exists irrespective of physical activity and other asthma medication use."

Few studies have found a link between early-life asthma and increased risk of developing obesity by following children over a decade. Not all children who have asthma are obese or will become obese, however.

"Children who have asthma are often overweight or obese, but the scientific literature has not been able to say asthma causes obesity," said Zhanghua Chen, lead author of the study and a research associate of environmental health at the Keck School of Medicine.

"However, our study and that of others support the finding that having asthma in early childhood may lead to increased risk of childhood obesity."

USC researchers reviewed the records of 2,171 Southern California kindergarteners and first-graders who weren't obese when they enrolled in the Children's Health Study. Some 13.5 percent of children had asthma when they enrolled in the study.

Researchers followed the students for up to 10 years. During that decade, 15.8 percent of the children became obese. The scientists confirmed their results using a different group of fourth-graders who were followed until high school graduation.

The Children's Health Study is one of the largest and most detailed studies of the long-term effects of air pollution on the respiratory and metabolic health of children. 

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