Open Access Research article

Childhood body mass index and subsequent physician-diagnosed asthma: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies

Kathryn B Egan123*, Adrienne S Ettinger123 and Michael B Bracken123

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Chronic Disease Epidemiology, Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, CT, USA

2 Center for Perinatal, Pediatric and Environmental Epidemiology, Yale University, 1 Church Street, 6th floor, New Haven, CT, 06510, USA

3 Yale School of Medicine and Graduate School, New Haven, CT, USA

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BMC Pediatrics 2013, 13:121  doi:10.1186/1471-2431-13-121

Published: 13 August 2013



Childhood asthma and obesity prevalence have increased in recent years suggesting a potential association. However, the direction of any association is poorly understood and the potential causal-relationship is unknown.


We examined the association between overweight/obesity, defined by body mass index (BMI) <18 years of age, and subsequent physician-diagnosed incident asthma at least one year after BMI assessment. We sought to explore potential effect modification by sex. PubMed and Embase were searched using keywords and restricted to subjects aged 0–18 years. There were no date or language restrictions. From each study we extracted: authors, publication date, location, overweight/obesity definitions, asthma definitions, number of participants, recruitment duration, description of cohort, follow-up time, adjusted effect estimates (with 95% CI) and estimates of subgroup analysis.


Six prospective cohort studies which focused on children <18 years of age met criteria for inclusion. The combined risk ratio (RR) of overweight was associated with asthma (RR = 1.35; 95% CI = 1.15, 1.58). In boys, the combined RR of overweight on asthma was significant (RR = 1.41; 95% CI = 1.05, 1.88). For girls, when BMI was defined by Z-score, the combined RR of overweight on asthma was also significant (RR = 1.19; 95% CI = 1.06, 1.34). The combined risk ratio (RR) of obesity was associated with asthma in both boys and girls (RR = 1.50; 95% CI = 1.22, 1.83), in boys only (RR = 1.40; 95% CI = 1.01, 1.93) and in girls only (RR = 1.53; 95% CI = 1.09, 2.14).


Overweight and, especially, obese children are at increased risk of subsequent physician diagnosed asthma in comparison to normal weight children. Except for sex, no studies reported any other potential effect modifiers. The observed sex effects were inconsistent.

Asthma; Overweight; Obesity; Body mass index; Body weight; Pediatric