Does Being Overweight Complicate Asthma?

It certainly does.

A forty five years old business owner visited came in for a consultation. He was portly and quite out of breath when he entered. It took a while for him to catch his breath back. This only after walking from the car park! He had pre-diabetes, mildly raised blood pressure and his knees had begun to hurt. His lung function test was below normal. He now wanted to become fitter as he was tired of declining health.

The challenge

This is becoming typical of many urban dwellers with sedentary work and lifestyles. Approximately 65% population over thirty five years is overweight. Being overweight is a risk factor for developing diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure, gall stones, high cholesterol, stroke and osteoarthritis. This means taking medicines for life at a time which has seen an escalation in health care costs. Since many companies pay for medical bills of employees, their profits are likely to be undermined. Studies in the United States show $123 billion in health care costs because of obesity! This is compounded by productivity loss. This does not include stress, depression and the ripple effect on quality of life.

A body mass index equal to or greater than 27 kg/m2 has equated a productivity loss of 5 hours per week. Medical costs, absenteeism and work limitations have been found to be 77% higher in obese people. A waist circumference of 92 cm and more among males has been linked to a higher risk of metabolic syndrome and heart disease among South Asian populations.

While some people have a genetic disposition to excess body weight, many cases are because of physical inactivity and excess body fat, hence preventable. This means that a lowering of body weight combined with physical activity can improve general health. Thus health care costs and absenteeism can be reduced and productivity increased.

What can be done?

Preliminary studies have shown a health and economic benefit of a modest reduction of 10% in body weight. Lifestyle interventions including one-on-one counseling effected a reduction of 58% in the incidence of diabetes. Health coaching, a blend of behavioural theory and clinical practice has emerged as an effective intervention toward improving health. This is because of several interconnected factors which can sabotage an individual’s efforts to improve health. Although many individuals have succeeded in achieving normal weight by their own efforts, several give up along the way.



National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2002

Surgeon General, Obesity in America, National Health Policy Forum 2003

Thomson et al. Estimated economic costs of obesity to US businesses, Am. J. Health Promotion 1998: 12(2)

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