Childhood Obesity Linked to Asthma

By Gia Diakakis, MS, RD, LDN, CNSC

After working with countless families who face obesity and overweight issues, I thought I thought I thoroughly understood all there was to know about the impact pediatric obesity has on the body. That is, until I ran across this study: “Childhood Overweight/Obesity and Asthma: Is There a Link?” The answer is Yes!

While asthma isn’t directly managed by pediatric dietitians, I do know how prevalent it has become. I know obesity negatively impacts our bodies, but still I never stopped to think that it might negatively impact pulmonary function or asthma. The authors of this article explain:

A proposed hypothesis is that high body weight, as a state of low grade inflammation, exacerbates airway inflammation, which contributes to the development of asthma. A typical Western diet may act as an inflammatory stimulus. If inflammation is a mechanism linking high body weight and asthma, it is reasonable that diet plays a role. A typical Western eating patter – high in energy-dense foods such as animal fats and processed sugars, and low in whole unprocessed plant foods – may be obesogenic due to it energy surplus but also because it produces inflammatory biochemical signals.

To translate this more directly to food and diet, high fat meals increase airway inflammation with the effect being the highest when the fat is trans fatty acid. Trans fatty acids can commonly be found in processed foods such as McDonalds or other fast foods. On the other hand, eating a balanced diet with “fresh seafood, fresh fruits, and fresh was associated with reduced prevalence of asthma symptoms and a decrease in BMI.

What was even more compelling for me was the information regarding adiponectin and leptin. Adiponectin is a hormone released by fat tissue that has anti-inflammatory properties. Keep in mind asthma is characterized as inflammation of the airway, thus anti-inflammatory mediators are beneficial. It is found to be lower in overweight or obese individuals1. Leptin is also a hormone released by fat tissue but is pro-inflammatory and is found in higher levels in overweight/obese individuals. Low adiponectin (anti-inflammatory) levels have been found to be associated with asthma in adults and children while leptin (pro-inflammatory) concentrations has been found to correlate with severity of asthma.

In addition to BMI percentiles, researchers also looked at body habits. They noticed central obesity (increased fat mass around the abdomen) was significantly associated with asthma severity and lower lung function.

How do families combat this chronic health issue? The same way we recommend dealing with nearly all diet issues: provide a well balanced diet high in fresh fruits and veggies and low in processed trans fats should help ward off pediatric obesity.