According to a St. Michael’s Hospital study, underweight and obese women who also drank alcohol and smoked tobacco had a two-fold higher risk of being diagnosed with asthma than women with a healthy body mass index (BMI) who did not drink or smoke. In addition, the study found that women with low and high BMIs who smoked and drank were also two to three times more likely to experience wheezing. A St. Michael’s Hospital news release notes that the study is the first to assess the combined effects of smoking, BMI, and alcohol consumption on the risk of developing asthma.

The research included data gathered between 2002 and 2004 from approximately 175,000 people ages 18 to 44 from across 51 countries. Additional findings from the study included men showed higher prevalence of smoking and use of alcohol than women. However, more women had unhealthy BMIs (underweight or obese) than men, highlighting the greater impact of female BMI as a risk factor.

“Although individual physical and behavioral factors associated with asthma have been examined before, people are often exposed to multiple risk factors so it’s important we understand the combined impact,” explains lead author of the study Dr Jayadeep Patra. “Our research found overall increased risk for wheezing and asthma in both men and women, but the magnitude of the combined effects from low or high BMI, smoking and drinking was consistently higher among women than men.”

The St. Michael’s Hospital news release indicates that Patra also notes the significant variations in diagnosed asthma between countries, with increasing rates found in low-income and middle-income countries, possibly because of higher exposure to multiple risk factors, including the use of solid fuel. Solid fuels, such as charcoal or dung, are known to contribute to a higher risk of developing respiratory and cardiovascular disease compared to persons who cook with electric or gas devices.

Patra says the combined effects of identified risk factors have not been adequately studied yet and many questions are still unanswered. Also, countries with higher male smoking rates such as India or Bangladesh could effect on higher asthma and wheezing rates as a result of more exposure to second-hand smoke.

Patra says, “The impact of these factors combined on wheezing symptoms and diagnosed asthma calls for greater emphasis on collaborative – rather than isolated – efforts to reduce their exposure. The impact on the working population specifically is equally important, which points to another potential area of focus for future intervention strategies.”

Source: St. Michael’s Hospital