Asthma and Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight is critical to optimal health and well-being. Being overweight puts a person at risk for various health conditions and also makes it difficult to manage these health conditions. Asthma is one of those health problems that's difficult to treat or that you're prone to when you're overweight. 

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic, non-communicable disease that affects both children and adults.

It is a reversible narrowing of the airways which occurs due to inflammation and tightening of the muscles around the airways. 

Asthma attack

During an asthma attack, the muscles around the airways contract, narrowing the airways and making it difficult to breathe.

Symptoms of asthma

Below are the main symptoms of asthma:

Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound during breathing. It is a sign of a breathing problem and occurs when air travels through narrowed or compressed airways.

Coughing also happens when the airways are tightened. The cough is usually dry and without mucus.

Shortness of breath, also known as breathlessness, is described as a feeling where a person cannot get enough air. In people with asthma, this happens due to insufficient airflow throughcompressed airways.

Chest tightness is described as an uncomfortable tightening in the chest region making breathing difficult.

The above symptoms are often triggered by various factors, ranging from exercise to inhaling air pollutants.

Obesity is a risk factor for asthma

Obesity is described as an abnormal fat accumulation in an individual that presents a health risk

The ideal and healthy body mass index (BMI) is between 18.5 and 24.9 kg/m², but an obese person has a BMI greater than 30 kg/m² (a BMI of more than 25 kg/m² is overweight).

Obesity causes a significant change in the normal lungs' functioning.¹ The abnormal accumulation of fat in various parts of the chest and stomach area of an obese person leads to compression of the lungs and the surrounding airways, which in turn increases the risk of developing asthma and difficulty in managing asthma.

Obesity is associated with the development of asthma, worsening of symptoms and poor asthma control. Obese people tend to have severe asthma compared to individuals with a healthy BMI. Studies show that seven per cent of adults with a BMI in the normal range have asthma; however, 11 percent of adults with a BMI classified as obese have asthma. Also, people with asthma and a BMI over 30kg/m² (obese) have poorer asthma control. Research on the mechanism of asthma in obesity found that people with asthma who are obese are more likely to have asthma attacks and frequent hospital stays.²

More severe symptoms

Overweight and obese people tend to have lower immunity, which in turn affects their body's ability to fight infection. Therefore, obese people have more severe asthma symptoms. Coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath are made worse by the accumulation of fat around the chest region.

Why won’t asthma drugs work as well in obese persons?

Obese asthmatics have trouble managing and controlling their symptoms.

Research shows that obesity reduces the effectiveness of certain asthma medications. This is usually due to the action of certain proteins, produced in excess by the cells of overweight people which inhibit the action of the drug, especially steroid-based drugs.¹

Can losing weight improve asthma symptoms?

Losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight improve the overall quality of life and well-being of each individual. With asthma, as with many other noncommunicable diseases, losing weight reduces symptoms. There are reduced exacerbations of symptoms, people tend to feel less breathless, and the cough is reduced. Another benefit of weight loss is better treatment and control of asthma: asthma medication works better; there is no need to use an inhaler regularly; and fewer hospital visits are required. Eating a healthy diet and creating a weight loss plan are highly recommended to enjoy the above benefits and improve overall well-being.

What to look out for when exercising with asthma

Regular exercise is vital to healthy lungs and overall health. People with asthma can engage in all types of physical activity, but caution is advised due to the symptoms associated with asthma.

Here are some tips for exercising with asthma:

  1. Keep your inhaler handy
  2. Take medication before exercising
  3. Limit outdoor exercise due to air pollutants. Consider indoor activities during cold weather or tie a scarf around your nose during cold weather, as cold weather often triggers asthma symptoms
  4. Exercise where there is good air quality
  5. Inform people around you that you have asthma, and tell them what to do if you have an asthma attack
  6. Do not engage in strenuous exercises


Asthma is more common in obese people. The symptoms that arise are more severe and more difficult to control. Also, medication for the obese is not as effective as for a healthy weight person. Therefore, losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight are important to improve asthma symptoms and improve the overall quality of life.

In addition, when exercising, people with asthma should be careful to follow asthma safety tips.


  1. Ubong P, Anne D, Erick F. Obesity and Asthma. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 2018; 141:1169–79.
  2. Anne D, Matthew P. Mechanisms of Asthma in Obesity. Pleiotropic Aspects of Obesity Produce Distinct Asthma Phenotypes. American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology  2016; 54:601-08.
  3. What is the body mass index (BMI)? [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2023 Mar 13].
  4. Association AL. The Link between Asthma and Weight [Internet].

Amanda Yad-El Ugboji

Bachelors of science Public- Bsc Public health, Babcock University, Nigeria

Amanda is a public health entrepreneur and content creator with a strong passion for health communications.
She enjoys using her skills to contribute to projects aiming for sustainable health for all and equity. Related to this, Amanda is passionate about public health education.
She has two years of experience as a freelance writer, and her other skills include writing, blogging and public speaking." presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
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