The asthma–obesity relationship: underlying mechanisms and treatment implications

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Purpose of review

Obesity is a worldwide epidemic with a prevalence that has tripled in the last two decades. Worldwide, more than 1.5 billion adults are overweight and more than 500 million obese. Obesity has been suggested to be a risk factor for the development of more difficult-to-control asthma. Although the mechanisms underlying the asthma–obesity relationship are not fully understood, several possible explanations have been put forward. These will be reviewed in this manuscript as well as the implications for the treatment of overweight and obese asthma patients.

Recent findings

Insulin resistance is a possible factor contributing to the asthma–obesity relationship and the effect is independent of other components of the metabolic syndrome such as hypertriglyceridemia, hypertension, hyperglycemia, and systemic inflammation. Obesity has important effects on airway geometry, by especially reducing expiratory reserve volume causing obese asthmatics to breathe at low lung volumes. Furthermore, obesity affects the type of inflammation in asthma and is associated with reduced inhaled corticosteroids treatment responsiveness.


Obesity induces the development of asthma with a difficult-to-control phenotype. Treatment targeting insulin resistance may be beneficial in obese asthma patients, especially when they have concomitant diabetes. Systemic corticosteroids should be avoided as much as possible as they are not very effective in obese asthma and associated with side-effects like diabetes, weight gain, and osteoporosis.

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