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Obese Women Have Higher Risk of Asthma

May 17, 2016

It’s common knowledge that obesity increases your risk for several chronic conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

However, new research also indicates that obesity may increase women’s risk for another chronic health issue: asthma.

Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics analyzed data from the 2001-2014 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They found that obese women had a 15-percent rate of asthma, compared to 8 percent for overweight women and 7 percent for normal-weight women.

The study didn’t explain why asthma risk was elevated in obese women, only that there was an association between the two. However, we do know that carry extra weight puts additional strain on the lungs and makes it difficult to breathe, while losing weight has the opposite effect. 

Interestingly enough, men didn’t have the same elevated asthma rate by weight. Researchers don’t yet have an explanation for why the same similarities weren’t found in men, but it could be possible that hormones play a role in increasing women’s asthma risk.

Eight percent of the population — the equivalent of 25 million Americans — has asthma, a chronic lung disease that causes the airways to swell and narrow, which leads to coughing, chest tightness and wheezing. Frequent symptoms can lead to an asthma attack that requires immediate medical attention.

Asthma is a serious condition that leads to more than 3,600 deaths every year, according to the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America. Though researchers don’t yet understand the cause-and-effect relationship between asthma and obesity, losing weight could lower a person’s risk for asthma and other chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

Obesity has a significant impact on women’s overall health, a topic which I’ve addressed repeatedly on this blog. Being obese increases a woman’s risk for complications while pregnant, including gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, a potentially fatal condition that involves high blood pressure. Obesity also can increase the risk of a rare form of stroke called cerebral venous thrombosis (CVT) if you take birth control pills.

Losing weight is difficult, but it’s necessary to lower your risk of certain health conditions. In our practice, we see many people who have tried to lose weight for several years, shedding some weight but then gaining most of it back. Diet and exercise can help, but for some people medical intervention such as bariatric surgery may be the best option. It also can be lifesaving and help you avoid chronic conditions such as asthma, high blood pressure and diabetes. If you’ve tried to lose weight but need additional support, please contact our Bariatric Weight Loss Program and schedule an appointment with a doctor who can help.