Obesity, defined by the WHO as an excess fat accumulation that presents a risk to health, has recently become an epidemic in many countries such as the US and the UK. The CDC reported that cases of obesity in US increased from 33.7% in 2007 - 2008 to 39.6% in 2015 - 2016 as well as highlighting obesity’s effects on the severity of pre-existing illnesses such as asthma. Considering how obesity is very harmful to the body and is a major cause of death, attributable to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, the CDC data is concerning.
Asthma is a chronic disease that affects a person's lungs and can show symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, breathlessness, chest tightness and coughing. It is a common lung disease, especially in children, but occurs in differing severity depending on the person. Some scientists believe that obesity may be one of the causes as to why some people may experience asthma more severely.
These statistics show the relationship between obesity and asthma:
- Asthma is prevalent in 7.1% of lean adults compared to 11.1% of obese adults.
- Compared to asthma which lean adults endure, obese adults are more likely to experience severe asthma and have a higher risk of being hospitalized compared to lean adults.
- 60% of adults in the United States that have been diagnosed with severe asthma are obese.
- Obese patients are found to have a higher risk of having chronic diseases such as asthma. They are likely to show more symptoms, both more frequently and severely.
Although, there isn't full biological proof that can directly relate obesity to be a cause of asthma, a study published by the European Respiratory Journal shows how obesity causes a buildup of adipose tissue, a tissue around the lungs that’s made up mostly of fat. This fat buildup makes it harder to breathe and can result in the worsening of a patient's asthma, leading to airway pathophysiology.
Diet also has an important impact on both the development of obesity and asthma. It is important to follow a healthy diet that is rich in vitamin D, fibrous food and contains lower amounts of processed foods containing saturated fats.
- Fiber in diets: Diets low in fiber lead to changes in the gut microbiome, which can promote both obesity and allergic asthma.
- Antibiotics: Exposure to antibiotics early in life has been associated with both asthma and obesity.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is said to be linked to both obesity and asthma. It is common for obese people to suffer from a lack of vitamin D, however it has not been proven whether this is a cause or result of obesity. Taking vitamin D supplements have also shown to lessen the severity of asthma which some people face.
- High saturated fats: Saturated fats are known to be the main cause of weight gain and obesity. The fat buildup makes it harder to breathe and results in wheezing and shortness of breath.
Useful treatments for overweight people with worsening asthma are:
- Weight loss,
- A healthy change in diet,
- AL;, Walsh JS;Bowles S;Evans. “Vitamin D in Obesity.” Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Obesity, U.S. National Library of Medicine
- Ali, Niloufer S, and Kashmira Nanji. “A Review on the Role of Vitamin D in Asthma.” Cureus, Cureus, 29 May 2017
- Ali, Zarqa, and Charlotte Suppli Ulrik. “Obesity and Asthma: A Coincidence or a Causal Relationship? A Systematic Review.” Respiratory Medicine, W.B. Saunders, 1 May 2013
- “Asthma FAQs.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 Sept. 2019
- Elliot, John G., et al. “Fatty Airways: Implications for Obstructive Disease.” European Respiratory Society, European Respiratory Society, 1 Jan. 2019
- Figueroa-Muñoz, J I, et al. “Association between Obesity and Asthma in 4–11 Year Old Children in the UK.” Thorax, BMJ Publishing Group Ltd, 1 Feb. 2001
- “Obesity.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization
- Pradeepan, Shyamala, et al. “Obesity in Asthma: Approaches to Treatment.” Current Allergy and Asthma Reports, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2013
- “The Obesity Epidemic - Transcript.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 Dec. 2017