Underweight and obese women who also drink alcohol and smoke tobacco have a two-fold higher risk of being diagnosed with asthma than women with a healthy body mass index who do not drink or smoke, a new study has found.

Women with low and high body mass indexes, or BMIs, who smoked and drank were also two to three times more likely to experience wheezing, the study found.

Asthma is a respiratory condition where spasms in the air pathways of the lungs cause difficulty breathing; usually triggered by an allergy or sensitivity in the environment.

Asthma is a global health priority due to the extent and duration of disability, affecting 334 million people worldwide, researchers said.

The study, published in BMJ Open Respiratory Research, is the first to assess the combined effects of BMI, smoking, drinking alcohol and solid fuel use on asthma risk.

"Although individual physical and behavioural factors associated with asthma have been examined before, people are often exposed to multiple risk factors so it's important we understand the combined impact," said Dr Jayadeep Patra, lead author of the study and an epidemiologist at the Centre for Global Health Research of St Michael's Hospital in Canada.

Men showed higher prevalence of smoking and use of alcohol than women, but more women had unhealthy BMIs (underweight or obese) than men, highlighting the greater impact of female BMI as a risk factor.

Patra also noted there are significant variations in diagnosed asthma between countries, with increasing rates found in low-income and middle-income countries, potentially because of higher exposure to multiple risk factors, including the use of solid fuel.

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