Increased body mass index has been linked to wheezing, a diagnosis of asthma, and morbidity. We investigated the association between body mass index (BMI), breastfeeding, and airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR) in 536 German schoolchildren. We analyzed consecutive surveys in 1994-1995 and 1997, conducted as part of the Child Health and Environment Cohort Study in Hesse, Germany. The questionnaire included questions adapted from the German version of the International Study of Asthma and Allergy in Childhood (ISAAC). A bronchial challenge test using 4.5% hypertonic saline was conducted during the 1997 survey. AHR was defined as a fall in forced expiratory volume in 1 sec (FEV(1)) of > or = 15%. Of 536 children who participated in the 1997 survey (median age, 10.3 years), 82 (15%) tested positive for AHR. In a multivariate analysis, there was no association between AHR determined at age 10 years and the highest quintile of BMI compared to the lowest quintile at age 4 years (odds ratio (OR), 1.4; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.5-3.6), 7-8 years (OR, 0.6; 95% CI, 0.1-2.5), or 10 years (OR, 1.1; 95% CI, 0.2-4.3). Breastfeeding for 12 weeks or longer protected against AHR (OR, 0.4; 95% CI, 0.2-0.9). However, when children in the highest quintile of BMI at age 4 years had been breastfed for 8 weeks or less, the prevalence of AHR at age 10 years was significantly increased (27.7%, P = 0.01). In conclusion, our results demonstrate a protective effect of breastfeeding against AHR, and reinforce the need to encourage breastfeeding. Although there was no association between BMI and AHR, our finding of an interactive effect of high BMI and short breastfeeding on AHR suggests a complex etiological pathway that needs to be further explored.
Copyright 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.