August 7, 2013

Overweight and obese children more likely to develop asthma

Kaiser Permanente study finds that body weight also correlates with frequency and severity of asthma attacks.

PASADENA, Calif. Overweight and obese children are more likely to develop asthma, and they experience more frequent and severe episodes of asthma than their normal-weight peers, according to a Kaiser Permanente study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The relationship between obesity and asthma is strongest in girls between ages 6 and 10 years and Asian-Pacific Islander children.

For this study, researchers examined the electronic health records of 623,358 children, classifying them as normal weight, overweight, moderately obese, or extremely obese based on measured height and weight. Over the course of a year, the overweight children were 1.16 times more likely to be diagnosed with asthma than normal-weight youth. Moderately obese and extremely obese children were 1.23 and 1.37 times more likely to develop the condition. Among the children who developed asthma, moderately and extremely obese children were more likely to experience more regular and aggressive exacerbations that resulted in emergency department visits and/or treatment with oral corticosteroids compared to normal-weight children.

The effects of body weight on asthma incidence also varied by race/ethnicity, age and sex. Moderately obese and extremely obese Asian-Pacific Islander children had 1.41 and 1.67 times higher risk of asthma than their normal-weight peers. Moderately obese and extremely obese girls between the ages of 6 and 10 had 1.36 and 1.56 times higher risk of asthma than normal-weight girls of the same age.

“As a result of this research, we know that children who are overweight or obese — particularly young girls and Asian-Pacific Islander children — are more likely to develop asthma,” said study lead author Mary Helen Black, PhD, of the Department of Research & Evaluation, Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “With this knowledge, we can work to develop programs to prevent asthma in high-risk groups. Physicians might also monitor obese children with asthma more closely, since these children tend to have a more severe type of asthma.”

Although asthma is the most common, chronic childhood disease in the U.S. and prevalence has more than doubled in the past 30 years, its relationship to obesity — another condition that has increased in prevalence during the same period — is poorly understood. Researchers in the United States have not conducted many large-scale studies examining the relationship between body weight or body mass index and asthma risk.

This study is part of the Kaiser Permanente’s ongoing work to better understand and prevent childhood obesity. In 2011, a publication from the SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth Study, led by Mary Helen Black and published online in Pediatrics, found that children and young adults with diabetes are more likely to have asthma, which may affect their ability to manage their diabetes.

Kaiser Permanente can conduct transformational health research in part because it has the largest private patient-centered electronic health system in the world. The organization’s electronic health record system, Kaiser Permanente HealthConnect®, securely connects 9.1 million patients to 17,000 physicians in 611 medical offices and 37 hospitals. It also connects Kaiser Permanente’s research scientists to one of the most extensive collections of longitudinal medical data available, facilitating studies and important medical discoveries that shape the future of health and care delivery for patients and the medical community.

Research reported in this press release was supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders of the National Institutes of Health under award number R21DK085395.

The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Other study authors included Hui Zhou, Miwa Takayanagi, MS, Steven J. Jacobsen, MD, PhD, and Corinna Koebnick, PhD, MSc, of the Department of Research & Evaluation, Kaiser Permanente Southern California, Pasadena, Calif.

About the Kaiser Permanente Department of Research & Evaluation

The Department of Research & Evaluation (R & E) conducts high-quality, innovative research into disease etiology, prevention, treatment and care delivery. Investigators conduct epidemiology, health sciences, and behavioral research as well as clinical trials. Areas of interest include diabetes and obesity, cancer, HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular disease, aging and cognition, pregnancy outcomes, women’s and children’s health, quality and safety, and pharmacoepidemiology. Located in Pasadena, Calif., the department focuses on translating research to practice quickly to benefit the health and lives of Kaiser Permanente Southern California members and the general population. Visit:

About Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve more than 9.1 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health.