BACKGROUND The prevalence of asthma in children has increased in many countries over recent years. To plan effective interventions to reverse this trend we need a better understanding of the risk factors for asthma in early life. This study was undertaken to measure the prevalence of, and risk factors for, asthma in preschool children.
METHODS Parents of children aged 3–5 years living in two cities (Lismore, n=383; Wagga Wagga, n=591) in New South Wales, Australia were surveyed by questionnaire to ascertain the presence of asthma and various proposed risk factors for asthma in their children. Recent asthma was defined as ever having been diagnosed with asthma andhaving cough or wheeze in the last 12 monthsand having used an asthma medication in the last 12 months. Atopy was measured by skin prick tests to six common allergens.
RESULTS The prevalence of recent asthma was 22% in Lismore and 18% in Wagga Wagga. Factors which increased the risk of recent asthma were: atopy (odds ratio (OR) 2.35, 95% CI 1.49 to 3.72), having a parent with a history of asthma (OR 2.05, 95% CI 1.34 to 3.16), having had a serious respiratory infection in the first 2 years of life (OR 1.93, 95% CI 1.25 to 2.99), and a high dietary intake of polyunsaturated fats (OR 2.03, 95% CI 1.15 to 3.60). Breast feeding (OR 0.41, 95% CI 0.22 to 0.74) and having three or more older siblings (OR 0.16, 95% CI 0.04 to 0.71) decreased the risk of recent asthma.
CONCLUSIONS Of the factors tested, those that have the greatest potential to be modified to reduce the risk of asthma are breast feeding and consumption of polyunsaturated fats.
- risk factors
- preschool children
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Funding: Financial support for the studies was provided by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the Community Health and Anti-Tuberculosis Association, and the Institute of Respiratory Medicine. This work was undertaken while Michelle Haby was a PhD candidate, supported by a scholarship from the Public Health Research and Development Committee of the NHMRC.
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