Researchers explore complex relationship between weight and asthma in children

Researchers at Aston University and clinicians at Birmingham Children's Hospital are exploring how children living with asthma can be supported to maintain a healthy weight.

Children and teenagers with the chronic condition are much more likely to be overweight than their counterparts, and if they are clinically obese their risk of having severe asthma is three times higher.

Now a £70,000 jointly funded project is seeing Dr. Claire Farrow, Dr. Gemma Heath and Professor Helen Pattison from the university working with the hospital's respiratory team to investigate the complex relationship between weight and asthma in children - and potentially help young patients better manage their symptoms and improve their health.

"Asthma is one of the most common chronic illnesses in children, with no current therapeutic cure," said Dr. Farrow. "Children who live with asthma are much more likely to be overweight or obese than other children, and if they are obese, their risk of having severe asthma is three times higher."

The project is funding Ph.D. student Rebecca Clarke to undertake a series of studies examining how asthma impacts upon child eating, exercise, and weight. Supported by Teresa Evans, a George Coller respiratory nurse at the hospital, the research will include exploring the factors that make it more difficult for children with asthma to maintain a healthy weight and how weight and exercise affects asthma management.  

Rebecca and Dr Heath have begun gathering the views of the hospital's health professionals to find out how asthma and weight are related in children and how treatments could be improved in future. Children and teenagers with asthma and their parents will also be interviewed to help understand how having asthma may make it more difficult to manage weight.  

"Birmingham has a high prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and young people and in some areas of the city, 24 per cent of children are overweight or obese when they start school and this rises to 40 per cent by the time they leave primary school," explained Dr Farrow, who is leading the project.

"Carrying excess weight can make the symptoms of asthma much worse; children are more likely to wheeze, to have a night cough, and need hospital care for their symptoms."

The study's findings will be used to inform the development of a tailored intervention for families to address weight management in children with asthma treated at Birmingham Children's Hospital -part of Birmingham Women's and Children's NHS Foundation Trust. This may help children to manage their asthma symptoms, improve their health and reduce the risk of complications associated with asthma and obesity.

Dr Heath, who works across both the university and hospital, added: "It is important that we understand how asthma impacts on weight in children so that we can develop tailored programs to support healthy weight in children who are living with asthma. Treatments for childhood obesity may not be as effective for children with asthma because they are not tailored to the unique needs and anxieties related to having asthma, or parenting a child who has asthma."

The project is among many joint health-related initiatives and links that exist between Aston University and Birmingham Children's Hospital with the ultimate aim of improving health and wellbeing. In a more novel association, the university's newest School, Aston Medical School, is currently supporting The Big Sleuth public art trail.

In addition to raising money for Birmingham Children's Hospital Charity, the trail aims to boost health, fitness and general wellbeing by motivating people to get active by walking, jogging, running or cycling the trail and by spending time as a family - knowing that the more time families spend together the stronger they become.

Dr. Christopher Chiswell, Consultant in Public Health Medicine at Birmingham Women's and Children's NHS Foundation Trust said: "Maintaining a healthy weight is important for all children, young people and families. The Big Sleuth is a fantastic opportunity to get active as you enjoy discovering our city and region on walking and cycling trails.

"It's also a chance to raise money for the hospital's charity, helping us push the boundaries of research even further through our involvement with projects such as this investigation of links between obesity and the experience of children with asthma."

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