Overall, asthma rates among U.S. children are on the decline after years of steady increases, according to a new federal study. However, the research, published online Dec. 28 in the journal Pediatrics, also found that among kids from low-income families, from the South and those aged 10 to 17, the rates continue to rise.
“Trends in childhood asthma have recently stopped increasing,” lead researcher Lara Akinbami, MD, a medical officer at the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told HealthDay. However, “we found that not all groups of children had the same trends.”
For the study, Akinbami and her colleagues used data from the 2001 to 2013 National Health Interview Survey to look at the prevalence of asthma in 150,000 U.S. children from birth to age 17. Overall, they found childhood asthma rates increased between 2001 and 2009, plateaued for the next four years and then started to drop in 2013.
Among non-Hispanic white and Puerto Rican children and kids in the Northeast and West, there was no change in prevalence. Still, Puerto Rican children were found to have the highest rate of asthma compared with all other groups.
Study findings also showed an increase in asthma rates among children ages 10 to 17, poor children, and children in the South. There was better news concerning the racial disparity between white and black children.
“Previously, asthma prevalence was increasing among black children, but not white children,” Akinbami said. In 2001, the asthma rate was 30 percent higher among black children than white children, and by 2011 it was 100 percent higher. The increase in disparity seems to be stopping, noted Akinbami.
The study authors acknowledged that their findings do not offer answers as to why changes in asthma rates are occurring. They did, however, suggest that the higher rates of the disease among the poor may be attributed to persistent exposure to environmental factors.
Jeffrey Biehler, MD, chair of pediatrics at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, agreed. “It’s … not surprising that asthma rates haven’t leveled off among poor children,” he told HealthDay.
Biehler said that poorer children are often exposed to environmental factors that increase their risk for asthma. Such risks, he said, include tobacco smoke, mold and mildew, pet dander, dust mites, cockroaches and smog. In addition, he pointed out that the stress associated with poverty could be a contributing factor.
In a statement issued in response to the study’s findings, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America CEO and President, Cary Sennett, MD, PhD, said, “it was very troubling that whatever gains we are seeing are not evident in those populations that are struggling the most: the poor and near poor, as well as many minority populations.” Sennett noted there is a need for further programs that can improve outcomes for America’s most vulnerable children with asthma.
“Attention to the environment – air quality, dust, mold and other triggers; appropriate and timely medical care and education of and support to families of children with asthma can and have made a huge difference,” he added.