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Trends in prevalence and severity of childhood asthma

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: (Published 18 June 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:1600
  1. H R Anderson,
  2. B K Butland,
  3. D P Strachan
  1. Department of Public Health Sciences, St George's Hospital Medical School, London SW17 0RE.
  • Accepted 7 April 1994


Objective: To test the null hypothesis and there has been no change in the prevalence or severity of childhood asthma over recent years.

Design: Repeated population prevalence survey with questionnaires completed by parents followed by home interviews with parents.

Setting: London borough of Croydon, 1978 and 1991.

Subjects: All children in one year of state and private primary schools aged 7 1/2 to 8 1/2 years at screening survey.

Main outcome measures: Trends in symptoms, acute severe attacks, and chronic disability.

Results: For 1978 and 1991 respectively, the response rates were 4147/4763 and 3070/3786, and home interviews were obtained from 273/288 and 319/395 parents of currently wheezy children. Between 1978 and 1991 there were significant relative increases in prevalence ratios in the 12 month prevalence of attacks of wheezing or asthma (1.16; 95% confidence interval 1.02 to 1.31), the one month prevalence of wheezing episodes (1.78, 1.15 to 2.74), and the one month prevalence of night waking (1.81; 1.01 to 3.23) but not in frequent (>=5) attacks over the past year (1.05; 0.79 to 1.40). There were substantial and significant decreases in the 12 months prevalence of absence from school of more than 10 days due to wheezing (0.52; 0.03 to 0.90), any days in bed (0.67; 0.44 to 1.01), and restriction of activities at home (0.51; 0.31 to 0.83) and an equivalent but not significant fall in speech limiting attacks (0.51; 0.24 to 1.11).

Conclusion: The small increase in the prevalence of wheezy children and relatively greater increase in persistent wheezing suggests a change in the environmental determinants of asthma. In contrast and paradoxically the frequency of wheezing attacks remains unchanged and there are indications that severe attacks and chronic disability have fallen by about half; this may be due to an improvement in treatment received by wheezy children.


    • Accepted 7 April 1994
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