The Grapevine

People With Asthma At Higher Risk Of Becoming Obese, Study Suggests

In an international study, researchers found that individuals who develop asthma during adulthood and those who have non-allergic asthma are at the highest risk of obesity. The findings of the new research were recently presented at the European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress in Paris, France.

"We already know that obesity can be a trigger for asthma, perhaps via a physiological, metabolic or inflammatory change," said Dr. Subhabrata Moitra, an ERS research fellow at ISGlobal who also presented the study.

As noted, experts are still in the process of establishing the exact mechanism. According to one paper published recently, it was suggested that obesity changes the way airway muscles function. Rather than inflammation, this alteration could be the main factor behind the elevated risk of asthma.

But Moitra goes on to look at the association from another perspective. "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."

As a part of a survey, the researchers looked at over 8,000 people from twelve countries who were not obese at the start of the study. They were followed up once after ten years, and again after twenty years. 

Findings showed 10.2 percent of people who had asthma at the start of the study went on to become obese ten years later. The figure was higher compared to people who did not have asthma, among whom 7.7 percent became obese ten years later.

This was after they included risk factors like age, sex, country, and physical activity. The heightened risk of obesity was greater in two groups specifically — those whose asthma began in adulthood and those who had asthma but did not suffer from allergies.

As the research is non-peer reviewed and observational, the team hoped to conduct more studies and gain a better understanding. Aside from identifying what causes the increase in risk, they also wanted to find out if different asthma treatments have any effect on said risk.

"With the right medication, many people with asthma gain good control of their symptoms," said Guy Brusselle, a professor from Ghent University, Belgium, and chair of the ERS Science Council who was not involved in the study. "However, there is no cure for asthma and there is still a lot we do not know about its causes and its effects on the rest of the body. This research is an important step in helping us untangle the relationship between obesity and asthma but it also raises new questions about why the two are linked and what can be done to help patients."