Obesity and Asthma – The Link, Risk Factors, and Management of Each

Posted January 20, 2021 by Clint Kelly - See Editorial Guidelines

Obesity is a growing concern throughout the United States. Not only does it result in serious health complications, but it could be considered one of the most preventable risk factors. According to research, obese individuals are at an increased risk of suffering from asthma.

So, in this article, we will discuss how obesity and asthma are linked, the contributing factors, and ways you can manage both. Here is a quick summary to get us started.

Obesity and Asthma: Those with obesity are more likely to have asthma, resulting in increased hospital visits and an increased need for medications. Obesity is likely to cause more severe asthmatic symptoms. Patients with obesity and asthma are also less likely to be responsive to asthma medications. The exact link here may be associated with increased inflammation in obese individuals.

Now that you have this summary in mind, let’s cover the specifics around obesity and asthma.

What is the Link Between Obesity and Asthma?

Obesity and Asthma

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the percentage of obese individuals with asthma is significantly higher than those without asthma.

Obesity is determined by using a person’s height and weight to determine their body mass index (BMI). For most people, BMI is correlated with the amount of body fat they have. Those with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 are considered overweight, and those with a BMI over 30 are considered obese.

Symptoms of asthma often include shortness of breath and lacking the ability to participate in certain physical activities. Many obese individuals may display shortness of breath due to the excess body fat in the abdominal region. Thus, the combination of obesity and asthma will only exacerbate one’s shortness of breath.

Excess fat tissue in obese individuals can also cause inflammation. Inflammation around the airways and lungs can impair the function of lungs, leading to more severe and frequent asthma symptoms.

Obesity also puts individuals at a high risk of having high cholesterol and diabetes, both of which can contribute to trouble breathing.

In addition to these links, obese patients tend to be less responsive to corticosteroids. Corticosteroids are commonly prescribed to treat asthma symptoms. If patients are less responsive to these medications, they are more likely to experience severe symptoms, requiring hospitalization.

Factors that Contribute to Obesity and Asthma

Knowing the factors that can contribute to either obesity or asthma can better help individuals manage their health conditions and prevent symptoms from becoming worse. Here is a list of factors that can contribute to obesity:

  • Physical inactivity – Those that are sedentary or inactive will burn fewer calories than those that are active.
  • Diet high in simple carbohydrates – Simple carbohydrates tend to have higher amounts of added sugars and can be more processed, contributing to weight gain.
  • Overeating – Overeating often means that you are consuming more calories than you are burning, which will cause weight gain.
  • Genetics – A person is more likely to be obese if their parents are also obese. Genetics can also affect one’s hormone levels and risk for other conditions, putting one at risk of being overweight.
  • Social factors – One’s social life and environmental surroundings can lead to obesity. If one lacks the resources or accessibility to healthy food, then weight gain is likely.
  • Health conditions – Some certain diseases and illnesses can put one at an increased risk of weight gain. For example, hypothyroidism or polycystic ovarian syndrome can lead to obesity.
  • Medicines – Certain medicines that you have been prescribed can have side effects of weight gain.
  • Psychological factors – One’s mindset can be a significant factor, as it greatly influences one’s diet and physical activity.

Here is a list of factors that may contribute to asthma and asthmatic symptoms:

  • Family history – Studies show that individuals are much more likely to develop asthma if one parent has asthma.
  • Respiratory infections – Suffering from a respiratory infection during your childhood may put you at an increased risk of developing long-term asthma.
  • Allergies – Suffering from an allergic condition, such as eczema or hay fever, can be considered a risk factor for asthma.
  • Smoking – Smoking cigarettes irritates airways and greatly influences one’s risk of developing asthma. This includes those that are exposed to secondhand smoke.
  • Air pollution – Exposure to certain air pollutants can increase your risk. For example, someone that lived a good majority of their life in an urban area is more likely to develop asthma.

If you are exposed to one of these risk factors, you must be aware of the dangers obesity and asthma can bring about.

Losing Weight to Manage Asthma

Since obesity can contribute to worsened asthma conditions, losing weight can ultimately better help you manage your condition. Shedding off the excess weight around the abdomen region can significantly reduce the amount of inflammation in your body and allow you to breathe easier.  

In addition to this, losing weight can help improve your overall health by lowering your blood pressure and bring your cholesterol levels back into normal range. It can also reduce your risk of heart disease. All these aspects can make managing your asthma condition easier.

But how can you work towards losing weight if you have asthma and struggle to catch your breath during exercise? Here are some options.

One of the first things you should do if you want to lose weight, and you struggle with obesity and asthma is to work with your doctor to create a plan. The plan should include specific goals, including the weight you want to reach and the timeline for it. Track your progress by writing down your weight every day and making notes of what you ate, how you exercised, and how well your asthma condition was controlled for that day.

Losing weight often starts in the kitchen. Many individuals can lose weight by cutting back on the amount of calories they eat. Being at a calorie deficit (burning more calories than consumed in a day) is a goal you should try to achieve.

In addition to this, changing up what you’re eating will also help. Avoiding highly processed foods containing high amounts of added sugars will certainly help reduce your risk of gaining weight. Adding lean protein, fiber-rich foods, fruits, and vegetables to your diet are crucial for helping you get the right amount of nutrients when losing weight.

After developing a plan for your diet, work with your doctor or personal trainer to develop an exercise program. It is best to start slow when it comes to exercising and slowly increase the intensity of your workouts.

Read our article about exercising with asthma for tips on controlling your asthma while working out.


We hope this article has given you better insight into obesity and asthma. This article is not intended for medical advice. Always consult your doctor for questions regarding your specific condition and treatment plan.

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