Childhood asthma and extreme values of body mass index: The Harlem Children's Zone Asthma Initiative

Helen L. Kwon, Benjamin Ortiz, Rachel Swaner, Katherine Shoemaker, Betina Jean-Louis, Mary E. Northridge, Roger D. Vaughan, Terry Marx, Andrew Goodman, Luisa N. Borrell, Stephen W. Nicholas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To examine the association between body mass index (BMI) percentile and asthma in children 2-11 years of age, we performed a cross-sectional analysis of 853 Black and Hispanic children from a community-based sample of 2- to 11-year olds with measured heights and weights screened for asthma by the Harlem Children's Zone Asthma Initiative. Current asthma was defined as parent/guardian-reported diagnosis of asthma and asthma-related symptoms or emergency care in the previous 12 months. Among girls, asthma prevalence increased approximately linearly with increasing body mass index (BMI) percentile, from a low of 12.0% among underweight girls (BMI ≤5th percentile) to a high of 33.3% among girls at risk for overweight (BMI 85th-94th percentile). Among boys, asthma prevalence was associated in a U-shaped curve with the extremes of BMI percentile, that is, 36.4% among underweight boys, 19.1% among normal weight boys (BMI 6th-84th percentile), and 34.8% among overweight boys (>95th percentile). After adjusting for age, race/ethnicity, and household smoking, among girls, having asthma was associated with being at risk for overweight (odds ratio [OR], 2.6; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.4-5.0) and being overweight (OR, 2.1; 95% CI, 1.2-3.8) compared to normal weight; among boys, having asthma was associated both with overweight (OR, 2.4; 95% CI, 1.4-4.3) and with underweight (OR, 2.9; 95% CI, 1.1-7.7). Large, prospective studies that include very young children are needed to further explore the observed association between underweight and asthma among boys. Early interventions that concomitantly address asthma and weight gain are needed among pre-school and school-aged children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)421-433
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Urban Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2006


  • Asthma
  • Children
  • Epidemiology
  • Gender
  • Obesity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Urban Studies
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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