Up until now, experts thought that obesity causes asthma in children – not the other way around.
But this new study – the largest yet on early-onset asthma and obesity – has found that it's asthma which is causing kids to pile on the pounds as they get older.
Scientists from the Keck School of Medicine of USC looked at 20,000 kids across Europe and found that beyond the wheezing and breathlessness, asthma can make young people susceptible to other health problems later in life.
They looked at children born between 1990 and 2009 across Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK.
The kids were diagnosed with asthma at three to four-years-old and scientists then followed their progress up to eight-years-old, focusing on health risks of early-onset asthma.
On average, they found that kids who were diagnosed with asthma had a 66 per cent higher risk of becoming obese that those without the condition.
Those who had persistent wheezing symptoms were 50 per cent more likely to become obese compared to those without those symptoms, and kids with active asthma were nearly twice as likely to develop obesity that those without asthma and wheezing.
But the connection between the two conditions is still to be confirmed.
One theory is that asthma can stop kids from being active – and that leads to them putting on weight.
There's also a possibility that higher doses of inhaled corticosteroids (inhaler medication) might increase the risk of obesity in kids with asthma, as the study found that those who used the medication had the strongest risk of developing obesity.
Last week, Asthma UK revealed that thousands of adult asthma patients were living with a range of debilitating side effects from their oral steroids – including weight gain.
So it's not wholly surprising that kids who rely on them might run the risk of similar problems.
Frank Gilliland, professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, said that as asthma and obesity both have their origins early in life, working out the connection could help in the fight against the current obesity crisis.
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"Asthma may contribute to the obesity epidemic," he said.
"We urgently need to know if prevention and adequate treatment of asthma can reduce the trajectory towards obesity."
A third of children aged 2 to 15 are overweight or obese in the UK, while one person dies every five minutes from lung diseases.
Causes include well-known diseases like asthma and lung cancer and other less-known diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is now the third most common cause of death, according to the European Respiratory Society.
Senior author and professor of preventative medicine at USC, Lida Chatzi, said that the connection between asthma and obesity could be a key component of a future public health crisis, given how common asthma is.
Currently, 5.4 million people live with asthma in the UK, with one in 11 kids having the condition.
"It is a chronic childhood disorder and if it increases the risk of obesity, we can advise parents and physicians on how to treat it and intervene to help young children grow up to enjoy healthy, adult lives".
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