Two current health crises in children – asthma and obesity – often strike together. And among kids dealing with both, lack of physical activity frequently comes in to create a “perfect storm” that hits health hard.
Looking at one of these kids, it is easy to imagine a sequence of events:
1. The child is diagnosed with asthma.
2. Asthma impairs the child’s ability to exercise.
3. The child gains weight.
But if a child’s asthma is well controlled, this doesn’t have to be the case. That is the message from new research out of The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
Pediatric pulmonologist Deepa Rastogi, M.D., and colleagues found that when obese children with asthma were asked to walk for six minutes, it was their obesity – not their lung function – that held them back.
Researchers looked at 140 children, among them obese children with and without asthma, and normal-weight children with and without asthma. All children in the study with asthma had their disease under good control, meaning they had not needed prednisone, a medication used to treat an exacerbation, in at least three months. Researchers tested each child’s lung function and measured the distance they could walk in six minutes.
For children who were not obese, both asthmatic and non-asthmatic, their distance was linked to their lung function. The lower their lung function, the less ground they could cover.
But for obese children, their distance was linked to their BMI (a measure of weight compared to height). Whether or not they had asthma, the higher their BMI, the shorter the distance they could walk.
“If you have well-controlled asthma, then your exercise limitation may not be your asthma, it may be your body weight,” says Rastogi.
She explains that parents often discourage children with asthma from being active because they are afraid of bringing on attacks. “By the time they are in school they become programmed that they have asthma and they can’t exercise, and by then we have missed the opportunity to teach parents about keeping their children active with appropriate use of controller medications,” Rastogi says. Instead, the focus should be on keeping kids as active as they can be while maintaining good control of asthma.
Her message to parents is to partner with their healthcare provider to get their child’s asthma under control. “That’s the first step, always,” she says. “Then, with good control, encourage activity. If it appears that your child is limited in their exercise ability, talk to your health care provider to investigate further into the cause for the limited ability.”
Her study was published in March in the journal Pediatric Pulmonology.