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Pulmonary Health Care Challenges Related to Obesity

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Pulmonary Health Care Challenges Related to Obesity

— By Andrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D.

Pulmonary issues are common among people with obesity — with even more severe outcomes for patients with COPD.

Among the many health challenges experienced by people with obesity, pulmonary issues are common. Excess fat compresses the lungs, diaphragm, and chest cavity, which can decrease respiratory system compliance, reduce muscle strength, and increase pulmonary resistance. This can result in shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, a cough, and loss of energy, and is even worse for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

COPD and Obesity

Ongoing research supports the link between abdominal obesity, measured by body mass index and waist circumference, and a greater risk of COPD. According to the World Health Organization, COPD is the third leading cause of death worldwide and the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. While smoking and environmental factors are primary contributors to COPD, nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population with COPD are overweight or have obesity. People with obesity and COPD also have greater links to diabetes, osteoarthritis, hypertension, and heart failure.1

Women with obesity are at significantly higher risk of COPD. And despite having less exposure to smoke, women are more likely to get COPD, experience greater lung impairment and — among smokers — have more rapid lung decline at certain ages. It is hypothesized that women have higher rates of COPD because they have greater vulnerability to the effects of tobacco, experience it at a younger age, are diagnosed later than men when treatment is less effective, and respond differently to treatment.

Asthma and Obesity

People with obesity, particularly women, also are significantly more likely to develop or have asthma. This can lead to increased bronchial hyperresponsiveness and functional respiratory decline, which can lead to greater health challenges because asthma can be more severe for people with obesity and more difficult to treat. Recent studies also find that adults with asthma are more likely to become obese as they age.2 Among adults with asthma, obesity is likely to occur later in life, and this risk is higher for patients who have had the disease for a long period, used corticosteroids, or have non-allergic asthma.

A Very Low Calorie Diet can Provide Respiratory Relief

Research increasingly supports the use of meal replacements for rapid weight loss with positive short term (≤ 12 months) and longer term (≥ 12 months) outcomes. Clinical trials, as well as secondary reviews, suggest that a Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD) is comparable or better than other weight loss methods not only in the amount of weight loss but also in terms of health benefits, including relief for people with asthma and other respiratory issues in people with obesity. Weight loss through diet and increased activity can lead to high symptomatic remission and significant improvement in asthma control, and other improvements to respiratory functions.


  1. Overweight in Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Needs More Attention: A Cross-Sectional Study in General Practice
  2. Biologic Use and Outcomes among Adults with Severe Asthma Treated by United States Subspecialists

About the Author: Dr. Andrea Pampaloni has over 20 years of communication experience across corporate, academic, nonprofit and government sectors. She provides research and writing services on a range of business issues and industry-specific topics to prepare white papers, articles, proposals, presentations, technical content, and speaking points, as well as marketing-communications content such as blogs, website content, newsletters, news releases and award submissions. Dr. Pampaloni’s research findings have been presented at national and international conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals, and she is a ghostwriter for three books, a Forbes article, and several corporate blogs.

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