Are children with asthma more likely to become obese than those without asthma? Data from a recent California study says yes – and that treating symptoms with quick-relief albuterol inhaler might decrease that risk.

The researchers identified 2,200 elementary school children who were not obese when the study began, at ages 5-8, and tracked their medical records for up to 10 years. Those with reported asthma at the beginning of the study were 51 percent more likely to have become obese by the end.

However, those who reported using quick-relief medication for asthma flares at the beginning of or during the trial had a 43 percent lower risk of obesity than those who did not. The reduced risk was independent of physical activity and other medication use.

It’s not the albuterol itself that reduces the risk of obesity; more likely it’s being under a doctor’s care and following treatment instructions.

“Early diagnosis and treatment of asthma may help prevent the childhood obesity epidemic,” says study author Frank Gilliland, MD, professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. “Part of the problem may be a vicious cycle where asthma and obesity negatively affect each other.”

Children who don’t feel well due to asthma are unable to exercise and inactivity can lead to obesity. Disrupted sleep is another sign of uncontrolled asthma and is also a risk factor for obesity.

Most children with asthma are prescribed a daily asthma controller medication such as an inhaled corticosteroid and a quick-relief albuterol inhaler for emergency flare-ups.

Even though use of albuterol inhalers was connected with lower risk of obesity in the study, albuterol is not sufficient asthma control for children. Parents are urged to speak with a doctor and obtain an Asthma Action Plan that details steps for asthma management, including medications.