Fifty years of pediatric asthma in developed countries:: How reliable are the basic data sources?

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Abstract

Summary.

Given the difficulties in diagnosing, or even defining, asthma in children, claims of a pediatric asthma epidemic in Canada and other developed countries are accepted with surprisingly little critical examination. We reviewed a broad range of data sources to understand how the epidemic evolved during the last 50 years and also to assess the reliability of the conclusions drawn from that data. We obtained Canadian National and Provincial data from Statistics Canada National Population Health Survey, and the British Columbia Ministry of Health respiratory database. International data were obtained by extensive review of pediatric asthma epidemiological surveys published during the last 50 years. In many developed countries, there have been three separate epidemics involving different aspects of pediatric asthma during the last 50 years: a double peaked mortality epidemic (1960s and 1980s), a hospital admission epidemic (peaked around 1990) and a steadily growing epidemic of children who report asthmatic symptoms on questionnaires. Canadian pediatric rates for asthma mortality (1–2/million/year) and hospital admission (1–2/thousand/year) are low and have fallen for the last 20 years. Rates based on questionnaire studies are high (10–15/hundred) and rose steadily over the same period. Objective reductions in asthma deaths and hospital admission likely reflect improved education and treatment programmes. Current claims of an epidemic based largely on subjective self-reported symptoms require more careful analysis. The possibility that symptom misperception, disease fashions, and poor recall, may be part of the explanation for the current high levels of self-reported symptoms deserves more attention. Pediatr Pulmonol. 2012; 47:211–219. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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