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A meta-analysis of the effect of high weight on asthma
  1. V Flaherman,
  2. G W Rutherford
  1. Department of Family and Community Medicine, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco and the School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr V Flaherman
    University of California, San Francisco, 3333 California St, Box 0503, San Francisco, CA 94143-0503, USA; FlahermanV{at}


Background: Prevalence rates for both overweight and asthma have been increasing among children in developed countries over the past two decades. Some recent studies have postulated a causal relation between these but have lacked power to form a definitive conclusion.

Aim: To estimate the effect of high body weight in childhood on the future risk of asthma.

Methods: Medline search (1966 to October 2004), supplemented by manual search of reference lists and grey literature. Cohort studies that examined high body weight at birth or during childhood and future outcome of asthma were included. Data from each study were extracted on exposure status, clinical outcome, and study characteristics.

Results: A total of 402 studies were initially identified, of which 12 met the inclusion criteria. The combined results from four studies that examined the effect of high body weight during middle childhood on the outcome of subsequent asthma showed a 50% increase in relative risk (RR 1.5, 95% CI 1.2 to 1.8). The combined results from nine studies that examined the effect of high birth weight on subsequent asthma had a pooled RR of 1.2 (95% CI 1.1 to 1.3). There was consistency among the results in sensitivity analyses examining studies containing only estimates of odds ratios, studies containing only the outcome of physician diagnosis of asthma, and studies including all definitions of high body weight.

Conclusions: Children with high body weight, either at birth or later in childhood, are at increased risk for future asthma. Potential biological mechanisms include diet, gastro-oesophageal reflux, mechanical effects of obesity, atopy, and hormonal influences. Further research might elucidate the causal pathway, which could improve our understanding of the pathophysiology of asthma and perhaps lead to knowledge of potential preventive interventions.

  • asthma
  • high birth weight
  • meta-analysis
  • overweight

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  • Published Online First 20 January 2006

  • Competing interests: none declared