Health: Pollution not to blame for childhood asthma
Jeremy Laurance is a writer on health issues. He is former health editor of The Independent and the i and has covered the specialism for more than 20 years. He thinks the harm medicine does is under-appreciated, the harm it prevents over-rated, and that cycling works better than most drugs. He was named Specialist Journalist of the Year in the 2011 British Press Awards.
Friday 09 January 1998
Britain has one of the highest levels of asthma in the world, and it is now the most common chronic childhood disease. But although childhood asthma has risen sharply over the past few decades, scientists remain baffled about the cause. The mystery will be deepened by the findings of a study of more than 27,000 schoolchildren from all parts of Britain which showed that one in three reported some form of wheezing. Levels were, unexpectedly, slightly higher in rural areas and in Scotland, suggesting that the most popular suspect, pollution, is not the cause.
The evenness of the geographical spread also suggests that climate and diet are unlikely to be factors. The study did find, however, that the disease is underdiagnosed and undertreated, with only 60 per cent of those reporting wheezing getting any treatment.
The researchers, from St George's Hospital Medical School, London, sent questionnaires to 93 large secondary schools across Britain, from the Shetland Islands to Cornwall.
All pupils aged 12-14 were asked to fill them in and 85 per cent were returned. Although one in three pupils said he or she had experienced wheezing in the last 12 months, only half had been diagnosed with asthma. Among those who reported frequent wheezing at night, only one third had been diagnosed with asthma.
Many pupils were not getting the treatment they needed, the researchers say in the British Medical Journal. They estimate that six to seven pupils at each large secondary school are suffering moderate to severe symptoms but are undiagnosed and untreated. Even among those who had been diagnosed, 4 per cent said they were suffering disruption to their lives, suggesting inadequate treatment.
The researchers say the lack of geographical variation in the numbers of children affected suggests that whatever is causing the disease is everywhere. "Furthermore it suggests that factors which do vary geographically in Great Britain - such as climate, diet and outdoor environment - are not the main determinants of prevalence."
Dr Balvinder Kaur, clinical lecturer in public health medicine at St George's, who led the research, said: "The most striking thing was that the prevalence was high. The second most striking thing was that it was high everywhere. I would have expected higher levels in the cities where there is outdoor air pollution, but they were actually higher in non-metropolitan areas. We know pollution triggers asthma attacks in people who have the disease but it does not seem to be a cause of the disease itself."
The level of asthma in France is half that in Britain and it varies widely around the world. The variation is partly attributed to differences in awareness and definition of wheezing but even after these are allowed for, researchers believe real differences remain which could be linked with diet, climate or other factors.
- 1 Mario Balotelli: Staff at arson-hit Manchester Dogs' Home convinced Liverpool striker is behind five-figure donation
- 2 Friends 20th anniversary: Alison Jackson photographs reunited cast
- 3 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 4 The response to my Pizza Express review has been overwhelming, and taught me a lot about journalism
- 5 Free U2 album: How the most generous giveaway in music history turned into a PR disaster
Scottish independence: Despite defeat history may still point to Alex Salmond as the victor
Scottish independence referendum: Frankie Boyle reacts to nation's 'No' vote - 'To be fair, I've always hated Scotland'
Iranian blogger found guilty of insulting Prophet Mohammad on Facebook sentenced to death
Scottish referendum: Police struggle to control Unionist rally in Glasgow's George Square
Hitler’s former food taster reveals the horrors of the Wolf’s Lair
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Scottish independence: The Queen breaks silence on referendum debate – as think tank warns of £14bn black hole if Scotland votes Yes
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...
£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...
£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...
£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...