BACKGROUND: There is evidence that the prevalence of asthma in children and young people is increasing. METHODS: An examination of a total population (35,170) of 17 year old Jewish boys of one seaside urban area in Israel was undertaken during two years, 1986 and 1990, by trained respiratory physicians in a regional recruiting office of the Israel Defence Forces. All boys who had ever been diagnosed as having asthma or symptoms that could have been due to asthma underwent a further examination by respiratory physicians that included spirometry at rest. A test to evaluate exercise induced asthma was performed on a treadmill in 88% of the boys. RESULTS: Lifetime prevalence (asthma in the past or at present) increased from 7.9% in 1986 to 9.6% in 1990. Point prevalence (current asthma) increased from 5.0% to 5.9%. The prevalence of current asthma increased in all degrees of severity (mild disease from 3.3% to 3.7%, moderate disease from 1.7% to 2.2%, and severe disease from 0.03% to 0.04%). By the age of 17, 77.4% of boys who had suffered from asthma had no or only very mild symptoms. CONCLUSIONS: It is considered that the measured increase in prevalence of asthma from 1986 to 1990 reflects a true increase among the Jewish Israeli population.
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