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Study of young Head Start children links overweight to worsened asthma

A study of Head Start children in Arkansas, which has the highest national rate of overweight children, suggests a link between being overweight and worsened asthma in this group of low-income, disadvantaged children. It found that 19 percent of 3- to 5-year-old Head Start children with asthma were overweight (body mass index or BMI in the 95th percentile or greater) compared with 11 percent of a national sample of similar-aged children (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data) and 14 percent of Arkansas prekindergarten children not in Head Start.

Compared with Head Start children with asthma and a BMI less than the 85th percentile (normal weight), those with a BMI in the 85th percentile or greater, considered at risk for becoming overweight, had significantly worse indicators of asthma. For example, the at-risk group had more asthma-related emergency department visits, more lifetime hospitalizations, more school days missed, and more frequent activity limitations than their nonoverweight counterparts.

They also tended to have more daytime asthma symptoms and lower quality of life, but less use of oral corticosteroids (such as prednisone) than their nonoverweight counterparts. This finding suggests that oral corticosteroid use, which can cause weight gain, is unlikely to be responsible for significant weight gain in this group. It is more likely that the relationship between asthma and being overweight is an interaction of several factors including hormonal, mechanical, genetic, and environmental characteristics.

The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS11062).

See "Relationship of body mass index with asthma indicators in Head Start children," by Perla A. Vargas, Ph.D., Tamara T. Perry, M.D., Elias Robles, Ph.D., and others in the July 2007 Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology 99, pp. 22-28.

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