About 10 percent of pediatric asthma cases could be avoided in the absence of obesity, according to a study this month in Pediatrics. We’re talking about a lot of kids when we consider that 6 million to 8 million U.S. children have asthma.
The research, led by Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, analyzed the medical records of more than 500,000 children aged 2 to 17 using the resources of PEDSnet, a network that conducts research and clinical trials across large children’s health systems. In their analysis, researchers found that asthma diagnoses among children with obesity were significantly higher than in children of normal weight and that about one-quarter of new asthma cases in obese children are directly linked to obesity.
Pediatric asthma is one of the most widespread childhood conditions. There are few ways to prevent the risk of a child developing asthma, but the data show that reducing childhood obesity could play a significant role. It is important to note that in children with asthma who are obese, asthma severity is higher, causing more symptoms and more challenging medical management.
Past evidence has suggested that obesity impacts the occurrence, treatment and severity of asthma, but this is the first study of its kind looking at obesity and the risk of developing asthma entirely in a pediatric population. It opens the door to similar studies that look at risk factors for other chronic illnesses — such as insulin-dependent diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Studies like these improve our understanding of the asthma-obesity connection and should further fuel doctors’ and parents’ efforts to help children maintain a healthy weight and quality of life. We can do this by encouraging physical activity — children with asthma can and should exercise — and foods that are low-fat and fresh, not processed.
As a pediatrician, I know that many children with obesity or asthma — let alone obesity and asthma — do not get enough exercise. The bottom line is that we want kids to have a healthy weight and lung function, and good overall health outcomes.
Parents can encourage physical activity by engaging in active play with their children. We know how busy most parents and kids can get, but setting aside time several days a week for play is very important. Here are just a few ideas; for more go to KidsHealth.
Take a ball outside and kick, roll, toss, or throw it to each other.
Play hopscotch, jump rope, or hula hoop.
Crawl, jump, or run through an obstacle course.
Play follow-the-leader, Simon says, or hide-and-go-seek.
Put on some of your favorite tunes and dance.
Play dress up and stage a pretend fashion show.
Take a ride together on trikes, bikes or scooters.
Go to the playground, and enjoy all of the equipment.
Take a walk around your neighborhood or hike through the woods together.
Go on a nature hunt, and collect feathers, leaves, pine cones, or stones.
Walk the dog.
Kate Cronan, MD, is a pediatric emergency-medicine physician at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children.