Eliminating Household Risk Factors Could Reduce Asthma By 39 Percent

March 05, 2001

The U.S. could see a 39 percent decline in asthma among children younger than 6 years of age if identified residential risk factors were eliminated, according to a study published in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Asthma, the most common chronic illness of childhood, affects some 4 million U.S. children. Despite advances in our understanding of asthma and the development of improved therapies, the prevalence of the condition increased by 75 percent between 1980 and 1993. Each year, childhood asthma contributes to more than 3 million clinic visits, 500,000 emergency visits, 150,000 hospitalizations, and 150 deaths.

"Through previous research, we've identified a number of risk factors for childhood asthma, but this study shows us what a dramatic difference we'd make if we could eliminate them from the household setting," says Michael Weitzman, M.D., professor of general pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center. "These residential risk factors are consistently shown to be potent risk factors for the development and exacerbation of asthma."

Weitzman co-authored the study with Bruce Lanphear, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Lanphear is a former member of the University of Rochester Medical Center's faculty. Andrew Aligne, M.D., and Peggy Auinger, M.S., of the University of Rochester, also helped author the study.

Specific risk factors implicated in childhood asthma often vary by geography, urbanization and poverty, Weitzman says. Risk factors for doctor-diagnosed asthma include a hereditary predisposition toward the development of asthma, an allergy to a pet, exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, and the use of a gas stove or oven for heat.

With the exception of environmental tobacco smoke, it wasn't until this study that enough information was gathered to show what a difference it would make if these factors were eliminated. The information gleaned from the study is critical in developing a strategy to prevent childhood asthma.

"These insights are critical because they demonstrate that almost 40 percent of this condition could be prevented by relatively simple modifications," says Weitzman, who also serves as director of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Center for Child Health Research.

As a side note, the study found that 6 percent of children had doctor-diagnosed asthma. The prevalence of asthma was higher among boys (6.7 percent) than it was in girls (5.1 percent) and higher among black children (8.9 percent) than white children (5.2 percent).

The study included more than 8,200 children younger than 6 years old, all of whom participated in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a survey of the health and nutritional status of children and adults in the United States.

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