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Asthma and Obesity

Obesity is on the rise in the United States. It’s well known that obesity can cause diabetes and heart disease, but studies show that it also leads to higher rates of asthma. Asthma is already a very common disease, but obese people are at an even higher risk. In Michigan, 13% of obese adults say they have asthma, but only 8% of non-obese adults say they have asthma.

Just how common is obesity in Michigan? In 2009, 30% of Michigan adults were obese and 12% of children were obese. More Michiganders are now obese than 10 years ago. Obesity is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or greater. Overweight is defined as a BMI of 25-29. Follow these links to calculate your BMI for children and adults.

Asthma and Obesity

The link between asthma and obesity has been shown in many studies. Asthma is a complex disease and there may be many reasons that it is linked with obesity. Asthma is affected by our behavior as well as our genes. One thing seems certain about the link: having asthma does not mean you are more likely to become obese.

Obesity causes chronic inflammation throughout the body, including the lungs. Asthma is caused by inflammation in the lungs. Inflammation from obesity can cause problems in the rest of the body as well.

Eating an unhealthy diet may make asthma and obesity worse. Even a mother's poor diet during pregnancy can increase her child’s risk of asthma. Eating processed food high in calories and fats may add to obesity and asthma. It’s important to eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, and fish because they can help prevent asthma and obesity. Studies have shown that adults who eat more fruit are less likely to have asthma symptoms. Even if you are not obese, eating right is important for all people with asthma. Our bodies need vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to help lungs stay healthy.

Experts also think that a lack of physical activity linked with obesity may make asthma worse. Exercise stretches muscle in the lungs and may help protect against asthma. Getting regular exercise is one of the best things you can do to improve lung health. It has even more benefits if you are obese.

One theory is that some of the genes that lead to obesity also lead to asthma. Some people's DNA may make them more likely to be obese and more likely to have asthma. Since DNA can't be changed, doctors advise trying to live as healthy as possible with asthma and obesity.

How is Asthma Different for Obese People?

Asthma care providers must think about how obesity affects asthma. It is not clear whether asthma is worse for obese people. Obese people do not appear to have higher risk for severe asthma. Obese and lean adults with asthma also have similar lung function. It also appears that obesity does not cause more allergic reactions that lead to asthma.

An important difference is that some asthma control medications might not work as well for obese people. Early data show that obese people have reduced lung volume and greater airway responsiveness. Doctors need to think about this when making an asthma treatment plan for obese patients.

Creating a Healthier Lifestyle

Obese people with asthma should follow the normal asthma treatment guidelines, but treatment should also include weight management and exercise. Obese people with asthma who have lost weight have reported fewer asthma symptoms, less need for rescue medications, and improved quality of life. Even when eating well and getting exercise, it is still important to take asthma control medications. Be sure to also avoid asthma triggers and use asthma inhalers correctly.

It's best to start slow if it's been a while since you last exercised, especially if you have asthma. Talk to your doctor about how finding an exercise plan that's right for you. Learn more about exercise and asthma if you are thinking about starting to exercise. Find people to exercise with. They can help encourage you and keep you motivated. Here are a few exercise ideas to help get started:
  • Start by walking around your block. Increase the distance you walk when you feel ready.
  • Swimming is easy on joints and is a full-body aerobic workout. Many people with asthma find that they can breathe easier with swimming than with other exercises.
  • Light weight lifting can help burn fat and build muscle
Obese people with asthma can make a positive change by eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. These foods have vitamins A, C, and E, which lungs need to help reduce inflammation. Vitamin D is especially important for people with persistent asthma. Some of the best foods for asthma are:
  • Fruits like fresh grapes, apples, bananas, nectarines, and oranges
  • Eat Omega-3 fatty acids found in tuna, salmon, whole grains, or fortified foods such as milk, orange juice, yogurt and breakfast cereal
  • Avoid trans fats found in foods like french fries, doughnuts, and cookies

Learn More about Obesity and Weight Management