Nemours Researchers Tap PEDSnet to Glean New Insights on Link between Childhood Obesity and Asthma

In a recent Pediatrics paper, the nonprofit pediatric health system Nemours credited PEDSnet for increasing the speed and scope of a study of obesity and asthma in children. PEDSnet, a partner network of PCORnet, the National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Network, offered the Nemours research team access to deidentified data from the medical records of more than 500,000 children. The study’s results suggest obesity increases children’s risk of developing asthma, a finding that many researchers have long suspected, but lacked the hard data from a study of this size and scope to prove.


The study concluded that an estimated 23 percent to 27 percent of new asthma cases in children with obesity is directly attributable to obesity. In the absence of overweight and obesity, 10 percent of all cases of asthma would be avoided, the research team said.


“Access to detailed data in the PEDSnet system, which includes clinical and medical claims data collected longitudinally on a quarterly basis from eight large pediatric health systems in the United States, allowed the authors to conduct a stringent analysis of asthma diagnosis using different definitions routinely used in asthma research,” said pediatric pulmonologist Deepa Rastogi, MBBS, MS, who authored a supplemental commentary on the study results in Pediatrics.


Rastogi went on to note that the spread of PEDSnet’s partner health systems across the country allowed national representation of all races and ethnicities, offering a diversity of data in which PCORnet prides itself. With a network comprising more than 100 health institutions, PCORnet gives researchers access to real-world data from everyday health interactions that can counter the homogeneity of randomized clinical trials, which often miss big pockets of people due to strict eligibility criteria.


“The gold standard in research is to conduct large, randomized clinical trials,” said Nemours President and CEO R. Lawrence Moss, MD, who discussed the study in a Becker’s Hospital Review blog post. “However, many questions can be answered in a shorter time and with less expense by analyzing large quantities of currently available data. Further, access to such large data sets, known as Big Data, will allow us to design more effective, efficient and focused randomized trials when we need them. PEDSnet is a wise investment. It allows our research dollars to have more impact on more children and bring more benefit to society.”


According to Rastogi, the study’s results are important because they suggest that over time, obesity-induced asthma will become a major type of childhood asthma. On the bright side, he said, obesity is a modifiable risk factor, which means there is an opportunity to intervene with preventive tactics.


Moss conveyed the study’s impact nicely:


“To put this new PEDSnet finding into perspective, consider the potential impact: If we prevent obesity in children, we could potentially prevent 800,000 kids in the U.S. from developing asthma. This is the largest-ever study of its kind that is a cross section of the U.S. and that estimates the attributable risk. But it wouldn’t be possible without collaboration and quality medical records data.”