Open Access Open Badges Research article

Abdominal adiposity and obstructive airway disease: testing insulin resistance and sleep disordered breathing mechanisms

Matthew T Haren123*, Gary Misan3, Tracey-Jayne Paterson23, Richard E Ruffin4, Janet F Grant5, Jonathan D Buckley6, Peter RC Howe6, Jonathan Newbury2, Anne W Taylor5 and Robyn A McDermott1

Author Affiliations

1 Sansom Institute for Health Research, Division of Health Sciences, University of South Australia, Adelaide, SA, Australia

2 Spencer Gulf Rural Health School (SGRHS), University of South Australia and The University of Adelaide, Whyalla Norrie, SA, Australia

3 Centre for Rural Health and Community Development (CRHaCD), University of South Australia, Whyalla Norrie, SA, Australia

4 Discipline of Medicine, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA, Australia

5 Population Research and Outcomes Studies, Discipline of Medicine, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA, Australia

6 Nutrition Physiology Research Centre, University of South Australia, Adelaide, SA, Australia

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BMC Pulmonary Medicine 2012, 12:31  doi:10.1186/1471-2466-12-31

Published: 28 June 2012



This study examined associations of abdominal adiposity with lung function, asthma symptoms and current doctor-diagnosed asthma and mediation by insulin resistance (IR) and sleep disordered breathing (SDB).


A random sample of 2500 households was drawn from the community of Whyalla, South Australia (The Whyalla Intergenerational Study of Health, WISH February 2008 - July 2009). Seven-hundred twenty-two randomly selected adults (≥18 years) completed clinical protocols (32.2% response rate). Lung function was measured by spirometry. Post-bronchodilator FEV1/FVC was used to measure airway obstruction and reversibility of FEV1 was calculated. Current asthma was defined by self-reported doctor-diagnosis and evidence of currently active asthma. Symptom scores for asthma (CASS) and SDB were calculated. Intra-abdominal fat (IAF) was estimated using dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA). IR was calculated from fasting glucose and insulin concentrations.


The prevalence of current doctor-diagnosed asthma was 19.9% (95% CI 16.7 – 23.5%). The ratio of observed to expected cases given the age and sex distribution of the population was 2.4 (95%CI 2.1, 2.9). IAF was not associated with current doctor-diagnosed asthma, FEV1/FVC or FEV1 reversibility in men or women but was positively associated with CASS independent of IR and SDB in women. A 1% increase in IAF was associated with decreases of 12 mL and 20 mL in FEV1 and FVC respectively in men, and 4 mL and 7 mL respectively in women. SDB mediated 12% and 26% of these associations respectively in men but had minimal effects in women.


In this population with an excess of doctor-diagnosed asthma, IAF was not a major factor in airway obstruction or doctor-diagnosed asthma, although women with higher IAF perceived more severe asthma symptoms which did not correlate with lower FEV1. Higher IAF was significantly associated with lower FEV1 and FVC and in men SDB mechanisms may contribute up to one quarter of this association.

Airway obstruction; Forced Expiratory Volume; Forced Vital Capacity; Asthma; Abdominal adiposity; Sleep disordered breathing