In a study published today, it appears that childhood asthma rates have finally plateaued after a significant rise over roughly two decades.
An overall drop in asthma but a few demographics left out
Kids aged 10 to 17 and children living in poverty were the two groups that did not see a decrease in cases of childhood asthma.
Beginning in 1982 asthma rates began to increase significantly. According to the study that was published today in the journal Pediatrics, asthma rates continued this trend from 2001 to 2009 but finally peaked at around 10%i in 2009. These 2009 levels continued for a few years before dropping to 8% in 2013.
“Trends in childhood asthma have recently stopped increasing,” said lead author of the study, Dr. Lara Akinbami of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.
“This is mainly due to the leveling off of prevalence among black children, who previously had large increases in the prevalence of asthma,” she said.
“However, more years of data are needed to clarify if asthma prevalence among children will continue to decline, or if it will plateau around current levels,” she added.
However, she was quick to point out that among children living below the poverty line and those 10 to 17 years of age increased each year between 2001 to 2013. The study looked at asthma rates from birth to 17 years of age from 2001 to 2013 so it’s hardly good news for those in those two groups.
“We found that not all groups of children had the same trends,” Akinbami said.
“Trends increased and then leveled out among children aged 5 to 9 years and children living just above the poverty level,” Akinbami added.
The study also showed that Puerto Rican children remained the group in the study where rates were the highest. Asthma is generally caused by hypersensitivity or an allergic reaction which causes spasms in the bronchi of the lungs leaving sufferers struggling to breathe.
Positive takeaways from the asthma study
These reasons obvious start with fewer deaths. While asthma is not generally fatal that is not always the case and a lowering of those with asthma should directly correlate with fewer deaths. Unfortunately, emergency room visits are often necessary and when attacks occur away from an available emergency room this clearly means the potential for fatal attacks to occur.
Additionally, the reason for the rise in overall asthma rates over the years was the rise in asthma for black children while the growth of new cases in white children was essentially stagnant for over a decade. “Previously, asthma prevalence was increasing among black children, but not white children,” said Akinbami.
In 2001, the rates in blacks was about 30% higher for black children compared to their white counterparts by age; by 2011 the rate was well over 100% showing the disparity between the two groups along color lines.
“The not so good news is that asthma prevalence still seems to be increasing among children living in poverty,” she said.
Why does poverty matter?
Akinbami was quick to say that her study didn’t pinpoint these reasons but others who responded to reading her study were quick to point out that environmental factors like cockroaches, smog, mold and mildew and exposure to tobacco smoke are all keys to understanding the difference.
“It’s not unexpected that asthma rates would level off at some point. It’s also not surprising that asthma rates haven’t leveled off among poor children,” said Dr. Jeffrey Bieher, the pediatrics chief at Nicklaus Hospital in Miami. He added that stress associated with poverty can also play a role in the increased rate.