Obesity and asthma: a coincidence or a causal relationship? A systematic review

Respir Med. 2013 Sep;107(9):1287-300. doi: 10.1016/j.rmed.2013.03.019. Epub 2013 May 1.


Background and aim: Epidemiological data has established increasing adiposity as a risk factor for incident asthma. However, the mechanisms underlying the association between obesity and asthma are incompletely understood. In the present paper, we review current knowledge of possible mechanisms mediating the observed association between obesity and asthma.

Methods: Systematic literature review.

Results: Obesity and asthma share some etiological factors, such as a common genetic predisposition and effects of in utero conditions, and may also have common predisposing factors such as physical activity and diet. Obesity results in important changes in the mechanical properties of the respiratory system which could explain the occurrence of asthma. However, there are also plausible biological mechanisms whereby obesity could be expected to either cause or worsen asthma. These include co-morbidities such as gastro-oesophageal reflux, complications from sleep-disordered breathing, breathing at low lung volumes, chronic systemic inflammation, and endocrine factors, including adipokines and reproductive hormones. Obesity related asthma is in general not associated with eosinophilic airway inflammation, and adipokines are likely to play important roles in the inflammatory pathogenesis of asthma in obese individuals.

Conclusion: The association between obesity and asthma is not straightforward, and further knowledge is clearly needed, as understanding the underlying mechanisms may lead to new therapeutic options for this high-risk part of the asthma population.

Keywords: Adipokines; Asthma; Body mass index; Mechanisms; Obesity.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipokines / metabolism
  • Adiposity / physiology
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Asthma / complications*
  • Asthma / genetics
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Body Mass Index
  • Dinoprost / analogs & derivatives
  • Dinoprost / metabolism
  • Environment
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / physiology
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Lung / physiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Sex Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Adipokines
  • Biomarkers
  • 8-epi-prostaglandin F2alpha
  • Dinoprost