Early-life asthma may contribute to childhood obesity

Asthma affects millions of children in the United States, and so does obesity. A new study may have found a link between the two, as early-life asthma may contribute to the development of childhood obesity.
New research suggests that asthma may increase the risk of childhood obesity.
It is estimated that asthma affects around 1 in 10 U.S. children.
As for childhood obesity, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that 12.7 million children in the U.S. – or approximately 17 percent – are obese.
Childhood obesity and asthma are often found to occur together, but existing research has not yet clarified whether asthma actually contributes to the childhood obesity “epidemic.”
New research from the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles aims to fill this research gap by examining the effects of asthma and asthma medication on childhood obesity.
Assessing the link between early-life asthma and childhood obesity
The researchers examined the medical records of 2,171 non-obese children between 5-8 years old.
These children were enrolled in the Southern California Children’s Health Study (CHS) and were clinically followed for 10 years.
CHS is a large-scale, long-term, detailed study of the lasting effects of air pollution on the respiratory and metabolic health of children.
The USC researchers examined 10 years’ worth of data collected in the CHS, and they also performed a replication analysis on an independent sample of 2,684 CHS children. This latter cohort was followed from the average age of 9.7 years to 17.8 years.
During this time, researchers measured the children’s height and weight annually, categorizing them into normal, overweight, and obese. Children were deemed overweight or obese if their body mass index (BMI) was at or above the 85th and 95th percentile, respectively, compared with the BMI standards set by the CDC.
Researchers team assessed the children’s asthma using the physician’s diagnosis as reported by the children or by their parents.
The parents also filled in complex questionnaires on sociodemographic factors and smoking exposure at home or in utero, as well as physical activity patterns and history of respiratory illness.
The scientists used Cox regression to evaluate the associations between asthma and the incidence of obesity during the follow-up period.
Children with asthma 51 percent more likely to become obese
At the beginning of the study, over 18 percent of the children were overweight and over 13 percent had been diagnosed with asthma.
During the follow-up period, 15.8 percent of children developed obesity.
After statistical adjustments, the researchers found that early childhood asthma did contribute to the development of obesity in subsequent years, mainly during early childhood and adolescence.
Compared with non-obese, asthma-free children, the non-obese children who did have asthma were 51 percent more likely to develop obesity during follow-up. The results stayed the same following sociodemographic adjustments and adjustments for other variables.
Additionally, children with a history of wheezing were at a 42 percent higher risk of developing obesity.
The age of asthma onset did not seem to influence the obesity risk.
Regarding the link between the use of asthma medications and obesity, the researchers made another interesting discovery. They found that the use of asthma rescue medications, such as an asthma inhaler, significantly lowered the risk of obesity. These results were independent of physical activity.
Significance of the study
The authors note that theirs is one of the few studies to link early-life asthma with an increased risk of developing obesity.
Some of the study’s limitations include the fact that the information was self-reported, and that the scientists did not have access to sufficient information regarding diet or physical activity patterns.
Frank Gilliland, the study’s senior author, points out that a combination of asthma and obesity can trigger other metabolic diseases in adulthood, including prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Children who have asthma are often overweight or obese, but the scientific literature has not been able to say asthma causes obesity.
However, our study and that of others support the finding that having asthma in early childhood may lead to increased risk of childhood obesity.
Although it could be that the respiratory problems prevent children with asthma from playing and exercising as much as healthy children, it is interesting, the authors note, that this study accounted for physical activity yet still showed these results.
Early diagnosis and treatment of asthma may help prevent the childhood obesity epidemic. Part of the problem may be a vicious cycle where asthma and obesity negatively affect each other. Our results also suggest that asthma inhalers may help prevent obesity in children. Although this observation warrants further study, it is interesting that the correlation exists irrespective of physical activity and other asthma medication use.

Arthritis and physical activity

Just 45 minutes of exercise a week can benefit older adults with arthritis

Engaging in physical activity can reduce pain and help to maintain mobility and independence for older adults with arthritis, but current exercise recommendations are often unachievable for this population. Now, however, a new study finds that exercising for just 45 minutes is enough to reap the benefits.

Researchers say that 45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week can benefit older adults with arthritis.

#Arthritis is a term used to describe inflammation of the joints. Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis, caused by “wear and tear” of cartilage that protects the joints. As the cartilage breaks down, pain, swelling, and joint movement problems may occur.
Older adults are most commonly affected by arthritis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2010-2012, approximately 49.7 percent of adults aged 65 and older in the United States reported having been diagnosed with arthritis by a doctor.
Arthritis and other rheumatic conditions are a leading cause of disability among U.S. adults; around 9.8 percent of those with doctor-diagnosed arthritis in 2010-2012 reported limitations in activity as a result of the condition.
Arthritis and physical activity
While physical activity can be challenging for many older adults with arthritis, it can help patients better manage their condition and maintain physical functioning. In addition, exercise can reduce the risk of other health problems, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults aged 65 and older engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week.
However, according to our last study only 1 in 10 older U.S. adults with knee OA meet these recommendations. This is most likely because they find such guidelines unachievable with their condition.
With this in mind, the team set out to determine whether older arthritis patients might be able to benefit from lower levels of physical activity than the current recommendations.
To reach their findings, the researchers analyzed the data of 1,629 adults aged 49 and older who were part of the Osteoarthritis Initiative – a nationwide study that aims to identify prevention and treatment strategies for patients with knee OA. All participants had pain, aching, or stiffness in joints of the hips, knees, or feet.
The physical functioning of each subject was assessed at study baseline and 2 years later through self-reported outcomes. Physical activity and functioning were also measured using movement-monitoring accelerometers.
‘Even a little activity is better than none’
After 2 years, the physical functioning of around a third of participants had either improved or remained high, the team reports.
It was the participants who engaged in regular exercise that experienced higher physical function. However, subjects did not need to meet the recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week to see benefits.
The team found that older adults who engaged in just 45 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking, per week were 80 percent more likely to maintain or improve their physical functioning than those who exercised for under 45 minutes weekly.
The researchers say that their findings applied to both men and women with arthritis of the lower joints.
We found the most effective type of activity to maintain or improve your function 2 years later was moderate activity, and it did not need to be done in sessions lasting 10 minutes or more, as recommended by federal guidelines.
Participants who engaged in more than 45 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week saw greater benefits to physical function, but the researchers believe that their findings show that older adults with arthritis need only perform a third of the recommended activity to remain functional.
Even a little activity is better than none. For those older people suffering from arthritis who are minimally active, a 45-minute minimum might feel more realistic.

How reducing alcohol intake can benefit health

As 2017 arrived, many of us are thinking about the healthy lifestyle changes we want to make for the coming year. Do you plan to exercise more? Lose weight? Quit smoking? How about cutting down on alcohol intake? While that last question may have prompted a highly resistant shake of the head from many readers who enjoy their after-work beer or a glass of wine with dinner, there is no better time to review your alcohol intake.
Are you planning to reduce your alcohol intake for 2017? If so, it could yield numerous health benefits.
During the month of January, millions of people will be giving up alcohol as part of a campaign dubbed “Dry January.”
Popularized by British organization Alcohol Concern, Dry January aims to “change the conversation” about alcohol by encouraging people to stop drinking for 1 month.
You might think that quitting the drink for just 31 days is unlikely to have a big impact on health, but many participants who take part in Dry January report better sleep, increased energy, and weight loss.
Most importantly, abstaining from alcohol for 1 month may encourage a reduction in alcohol intake in the longer term. A study published in the journal Health Psychology in March found that people who took part in Dry January showed a decrease in alcohol consumption over the subsequent 6 months.
In this article, we take a closer look at how alcohol affects the body, as well as the health benefits of reducing alcohol intake.
The scale of drinking in the U.S.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 recommend that adults who drink alcohol should only do so in moderation – that is, up to one alcoholic beverage a day for women and two for men.
However, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) report that in 2014, almost a quarter of adults in the United States engaged in binge drinking – consumption of around four drinks for women and five for men in a 2-hour period – over the past month.
Additionally, a further 6.7 percent reported engaging in heavy drinking over the past month, which is defined as consuming at least five drinks on one occasion for 5 or more days over the past 30 days.
Over the holidays and other special occasions, it can be hard to say no to that glass of bubbly when everyone else is celebrating with a drink in hand. Some of us may even see alcohol as a reward for a hard week at work or as a stress-relieving aid.
That bottle of beer or glass of wine might feel good in the moment, but if consumed in high amounts or too often, it could wreak havoc on your physical and mental well-being.
The effects of alcohol intake

The brain
Those of you who drink are likely to have experienced the dreaded hangover at least once. Feelings of sickness, dizziness, dehydration, and headache are all caused by drinking too much the night before.
Alcohol can cause an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain.
However, symptoms of excess alcohol intake can begin long before a hangover. In fact, alcohol can cause problems soon after the first sip.
The NIAAA explain that alcohol disrupts communication between nerve cells in the brain by causing an imbalance in the levels of neurotransmitters – the chemicals that relay signals from one nerve cell to another.
An imbalance of neurotransmitters can cause changes to mood, behavior, and coordination that are characteristic of excess alcohol intake.
Researchers have found that the brain can adapt to changes in neurotransmitter levels caused by alcohol, but this is not necessarily good news. An adjustment such as this enables us to build tolerance to alcohol, and it may fuel the development of alcohol use disorders.
In 2014, around 16.3 million adults in the U.S. had an alcohol use disorder, and in 2010, alcohol abuse cost the country around $249 billion.
The heart
According to the American Heart Association, excess alcohol consumption can increase levels of fats in the blood, which are called triglycerides. High triglyceride levels are known to contribute to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis, which can raise the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Drinking too much – particularly over a long period of time – can also lead to high blood pressure, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the heart muscle), and stroke.
It should be mentioned, however, that an increasing number of studies have suggested that moderate drinking may actually benefit heart health. A study reported by Medical News, linked moderate alcohol intake to reduced risk of heart attack and heart failure.
Still, some researchers have questioned the heart health benefits of moderate drinking, and health organizations recommend not initiating alcohol consumption solely to reap such – as yet unproven – rewards.
The liver
When we drink alcohol, the liver breaks it down so that it can be eliminated from the body. Drinking too much over time, however, can cause the liver to become seriously damaged.
In 2011, almost half of liver cirrhosis deaths in the U.S. were related to alcohol.
Heavy alcohol intake can lead to alcoholic fatty liver disease – characterized by a buildup of fat in the arteries – alcoholic hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), and alcoholic cirrhosis (severe liver scarring and structural damage).
The latter is the most advanced form of liver injury caused by heavy alcohol use; according to the NIAAA, of all cirrhosis deaths in the U.S. in 2011, around 48 percent were related to alcohol intake.
The pancreas
The pancreas is crucial for digestion and energy production; it sends enzymes to the small intestine to break down carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
However, drinking alcohol excessively over a long period of time can disrupt pancreatic function; instead of enzymes being sent to the small intestine to aid digestion, they are secreted into the pancreas itself.
This can lead to pancreatitis, which is characterized by inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas. Around 5 percent of people with alcohol dependence develop the condition.
Alcohol and cancer
An increasing number of studies have associated even light to moderate alcohol intake with increased risk of certain cancers.
A recent study reported by MNT found that each glass of white wine consumed daily may raise the risk of melanoma by 13 percent, while an earlier study linked low alcohol intake to a greater risk of breast cancer.
Other cancers that have been associated with alcohol use include mouth, esophageal, throat, and liver cancers.
The health benefits of reducing alcohol intake
Of course, many of the health risks associated with alcohol intake are related to excessive, long-term drinking. However, even those who drink lightly and in moderation could benefit from reducing their alcohol intake.
Weight loss
Alcoholic beverages are full of calories; a standard glass of white wine contains around 121 calories, while a pint of beer contains at least 150 calories. Needless to say, just a few drinks per week can contribute to weight gain.
Reducing alcohol intake may help you to lose weight.
However, this can be turned around by reducing alcohol consumption; a survey from Alcohol Concern found that around 49 percent of people who take part in Dry January reported weight loss, as well as increased energy.
The NIAAA’s alcohol calorie calculator can help you work out how many calories you consume from alcoholic beverages each week.
Better mood
A drink or two on a Saturday night may put you in good spirits in the short term, but the effect is unlikely to last.
Alcohol intake – especially in large quantities – can interfere with the neurotransmitters that regulate mood, increasing the risk of anxiety, stress, and depression.
As such, cutting back on the liquor means that you are more likely to be in a happier state of mind.
A better night’s sleep
Studies have shown that alcohol can disrupt sleep. Research reported by MNT in 2014, for example, found that drinking can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate sleepiness and wakefulness, which can lead to insomnia.
Dr. Shawn Adhami recommends steering clear of drinking just before bedtime, as this can disrupt normal sleep patterns.
Deep sleep is when the body restores itself, and alcohol can interfere with this,” he explains. As the alcohol starts to wear off, your body can come out of deep sleep and back into REM [rapid eye movement] sleep, which is much easier to wake from. That’s why you often wake up after just a few hours sleep when you’ve been drinking.
It is no surprise, then, that cutting down on drinking can mean a better night’s sleep; a survey from Alcohol Concern found that 62 percent of participants who took part in Dry January reported sleep improvements.
A healthier stomach
Even a little alcohol can irritate the stomach, increasing its production of acid.
This can lead to inflammation of the stomach lining, known as gastritis, causing symptoms such as stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. Heavy drinking may even cause stomach bleeding.
By reducing alcohol intake, such problems can be reduced or avoided.
Ready to cut down on drinking?
If cutting back on your alcohol intake has now made it on to your list of New Year’s resolutions, these tips from the NIAAA can help you get started:
* Monitor how much you are drinking: the NIAAA recommend carrying a drinking tracker card, allowing you to track every alcoholic beverage consumed
* Set a goal: do you want to give up alcohol completely, or just limit alcohol intake to once or twice a week? Set yourself a goal of how much you want to drink and when. The NIAAA recommend having some alcohol-free days
* Avoid drinking “triggers”: if you are more likely to drink around certain people or environments, try to avoid such scenarios
* Learn to say “no”: it can be hard to turn down a drink when offered one, especially on special occasions, but the NIAAA recommend having a polite “no, thank you” at the ready. The organization’s module on building drink refusal skills may help
* Pace yourself: aim to consume no more than one standard alcoholic beverage per hour when drinking, sip it slowly, and make every other drink a nonalcoholic one such as water or juice
* Avoid drinking on an empty stomach: eating food alongside an alcoholic beverage means that the alcohol will be absorbed into the bloodstream more slowly.

Dr Afshin Shawn Adhami