After participating in a pilot study funded by HMRI, then 17 year-old Jackson, who suffered from exercise-induced asthma, shed 16 kilograms, improved his breathing pattern, and is now enjoying a healthier and more active lifestyle.
After reading about the study, Jackson’s father, local restaurateur Neil Slater, enrolled him in the world-first project investigating nutritional approaches to managing asthma, and whether weight loss and dietary intervention can improve asthma symptoms.
“We know that people with asthma experience airway inflammation, which can make breathing more difficult. Obesity may be one of several factors that contribute to airway inflammation,” Dr Lisa Wood, lead investigator on the study, said.
“Everyone who participates in our study works with a dietician to develop a healthy eating program that will help them lose weight.”
For Jackson, this involved measuring everything that he put into his mouth. Neil and Jackson also visited John Hunter Hospital each fortnight for three months, where Jackson’s asthma and airway inflammation were monitored through breathing tests.
“He had to literally measure everything that he ate everyday and measure his exercise performance everyday,” Neil said.
“He lost 16 kilos during the course of the study. 16 kilos is a lot of weight and he was definitely looking fitter.
“The result and effort throughout the rugby league season was that he could play every game for 70 minutes as a prop and his performance was better than normal…as a prop forward in rugby league these days, that’s no mean feat.”
“It’s not bad whether or not you have sport induced asthma, but the fact was that he didn’t run out of puff and he didn’t run out of energy.”
For Neil, the observable improvement in Jackson’s breathing pattern has been the main improvement. However, Jackson is now also driven to lead an active and healthy lifestyle and is determined to keep the weight off and keep up the exercise program.
“He goes to the gym twice a day, pretty much seven days a week… he’s a bit of a gym junkie!” said Neil.
Global research has demonstrated that being significantly overweight also increases asthma risk but the reasons are unknown. Hunter researchers have found that the pattern of airway inflammation changes in overweight and obese people, which will change the way that they respond to their asthma medications.
They have also been testing different weight loss strategies, using diet and / or exercise programmes, and have found both approaches to be suitable ways to improve asthma outcomes.