Obesity is known to be a risk factor for developing asthma but a new study shows that the reverse is also true: people with asthma are more likely to go on to become obese.
The new research, presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress, indicates that those who develop asthma as adults and those who have non-allergic asthma are at the greatest risk of obesity. The team behind the research say it suggests the relationship between asthma and obesity is more complex than previously thought and more research is needed to better understand and tackle these two growing health challenges.
Until now there has been very little research on whether the reverse is true — whether asthma can lead to obesity. In this study, we have enough people and we have followed them for long enough to observe the relationship between these two conditions.
Participants were considered to have asthma if they reported ever having asthma and had an asthma attack or were woken up by an attack of shortness of breath in the previous 12 months, or if they were currently taking asthma medication.
The study began recruiting in the 1990s, and participants were followed up after ten years and again after 20 years. The researchers examined the relationships between having asthma at the start of the study and the likelihood of being obese ten years later.
They also studied people who had developed asthma after ten years in the study and their risk of obesity by 20 years. The researchers took other risk factors into consideration, including age, sex, country and physical activity.
The increase in the risk of obesity was even greater in people whose asthma began in adulthood. It was also greater in people who had asthma but did not suffer.
Asthma is characterized by inflammation of the bronchial tubes with increased production of sticky secretions inside the tubes. People with asthma experience symptoms when the airways tighten, inflame, or fill with mucus. Common asthma symptoms include:
- Coughing, especially at night.
- Shortness of breath.
- Chest tightness, pain, or pressure.
Still, not every person with asthma has the same symptoms in the same way. Some people with asthma may go for extended periods without having any symptoms, interrupted by periodic worsening of their symptoms called asthma attacks. Others might have asthma symptoms every day. In addition, some people may only have asthma during exercise, or asthma with viral infections like colds.
Mild asthma attacks are generally more common. Usually, the airways open up within a few minutes to a few hours. Severe attacks are less common but last longer and require immediate medical help. It is important to recognize and treat even mild asthma symptoms to help you prevent severe episodes and keep asthma under better control.
Obesity occurs when your body consumes more calories than it burns. In the past, many people thought that obesity was simply caused by overeating and under-exercising, resulting from a lack of will power and self-control. Although these are significant contributing factors, doctors recognize that obesity is a complex medical problem that involves genetic, environmental, behavioural, and social factors. All these factors play a role in determining a person’s weight.
Recent research shows that in some cases, certain genetic factors may cause the changes in appetite and fat metabolism that lead to obesity. For a person who is genetically prone to weight gain (e.g., has a lower metabolism) and who leads an inactive and unhealthy lifestyle, the risk of becoming obese is high. Psychological factors may also foster obesity. Low self-esteem, guilt, emotional stress, or trauma can lead to overeating as a means to cope with the problem.
Certain medical conditions such as binge eating disorder (BED), Cushing’s disease, and polycystic ovary syndrome can also lead to weight gain and obesity. BED is an eating disorder where a person has recurrent episodes of binge eating. During these episodes, the individual eats a large amount of food quickly and feels a lack of control over this eating.
Obesity is managed and treated to decrease the health risks caused by obesity and to improve quality of life. An appropriate weight management program usually combines physical activity, healthy diet, and change in daily habits. Other programs may also involve psychological counselling and, in some cases, drug therapy. Losing weight and keeping it off is very challenging because lifestyle and behavioural changes are required.
To lose weight successfully, and to maintain a healthy weight, requires lifelong changes in eating and exercise habits as well as an understanding of emotional factors that lead to overeating. It also involves setting and achieving specific and realistic goals.
People who are medically obese should consult a doctor or dietitian for a safe and personalized weight-loss program. Behavioural therapy or modification can also help. Seeing a therapist or counsellor can help you understand the emotional and psychological reasons for overeating and can teach you ways to manage your eating triggers.