At long last, there’s some good news when it comes to childhood asthma in the U.S. While the numbers have increased over the last few decades, the number of children who have asthma is lower, according to an analysis conducted by the government. In the 1980s and 1990s, childhood asthma doubled, and increased at a steady rate since these decades, until its recent decline. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why this has happened. However, factors like obesity, compromised immune systems in children and secondhand smoke exposure have like contributed to childhood asthma, since these things stop a child’s immune system from properly developing.
Lara Akinbami of the National Center for Health Statistics stated that the results were “a big surprise.” Akinbami said that she and her team thought that the increase in childhood asthma would continue. Instead, the study revealed the opposite. The first change in the childhood asthma trend was discovered as a result of a National Health Interview survey, conducted between 2001 and 2013.
In children 17 and younger, the instance of asthma peaked at 9.7 percent in 2011. Two years later, the rate of childhood asthma plateaued, and went to down to 8.3 percent in 2013. The report was published in the Pediatrics journal. Akinbami states that it’s not clear “whether 2013 represents just one of the fluctuations in that leveling or whether that’s going to show us the beginning of a decreasing trend.” She also asserts that the reason for the shift in percentages is still a mystery, but it may be due to possibility that the percentage of children genetically predisposed to asthma could have peaked.
However, asthma continues to increase among children in poor families, and is still much more common in African-American children than their white peers. Only 8 percent of white children have asthma, yet 14 percent of Black children have the condition. African-American children are also more likely to have serious complications from asthma than white children.
Regardless of the cause of the reduction in childhood asthma, several other health professionals are welcoming the news.
Stephen Teach, chairman of pediatrics at the Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C. states that the results of the analysis is “good news for kids.” Childhood asthma can be fatal and lead to long hospitalizations. The disease also causes children to miss school, which means parents miss work, making it an expensive disease to manage as well. Teach confirms that childhood asthma is “an economic and health care drag on our system and our potential for children to develop.” While he is optimistic, Teach, along with other health experts, say there is still a long way to go.
Elizabeth Matsui, a professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore says that roughly 1 in 9 children have asthma.
“That’s a pretty profound burden of a health condition in a population that really should be very, very healthy overall,” Matsui says.
The work that needs to be done includes addressing the ongoing economic and racial disparities when it comes to health care and asthma development. Teach confirms that “there are stark and dramatic disparities in the prevalence of the disease.” Ensuring that children are in environments where the air is as clean as possible, and working to provide equal health care for children of color are factors that can further assist the decline of childhood asthma.