A new study being released next month indicates that childhood asthma prevalence, once considered a rising epidemic, seems to have dropped in the past few years for certain populations.
The study, to be released in the January edition of the journal Pediatrics, pulls from 13 years of childhood health data taken annually by the National Health Interview Survey. The data showed a slow rate of increase from 2001 to 2009, a plateau from 2010 to 2012, and then a decrease in 2013. While this decrease is statistically meaningful, researchers are unable to tell at this point if this is the start of a continued drop or just a small plateau.
As CNN reports, while the data indicates that overall prevalence has gone down, certain populations of children still remain at an elevated risk. These populations include children aged 10-17, children from the southern states, and children who were from poor households. Other populations have plateaued rather than decreased, including non-Hispanic whites and Puerto Ricans.
Lead study author Dr. Lara Akinbami, of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, points out that the leveling off of the asthma epidemic seems to be following a worldwide trend.
International data on asthma prevalence over time shows that trends appear to be leveling off in many countries,” said Dr. Lara Akinbami, “and suggests that the trend in the United States seems to be following a general pattern.
Researchers cite a number of reasons why the prevalence may be declining. Changes in study methodologies could be the reason for the decrease, or improved medicines and disease management could also explain the change, as researchers hope. Despite this, poorer children may be more affected by environmental factors, explains Dr. Avni Joshi of the Mayo Clinic, who was not involved in the study. These environmental factors, caused by risk factors like tobacco smoke and poor air quality, could explain why poor children are still seeing an increase in asthma prevalence.
Overall, researchers are happy to point out that the asthma epidemic has slowed, since doubling over the 15 year period from 1980 to 1995. As more data years are released, they will be able to say whether or not this decrease is the beginning of a true downward trend.