An estimate of the prevalence of asthma and wheezing among inner-city children

E. F. Crain, K. B. Weiss, P. E. Bijur, M. Hersh, L. Westbrook, R. E.K. Stein

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Objective. To estimate the prevalence of asthma and wheezing unassociated with a diagnosis of asthma among inner-city children. Design. Cross-sectional survey of a sample of Bronx households. Methods. Random digit dialing telephone survey using parental report. Setting. Bronx County, NY. Participants. 662 self-designated heads-of-household who reported for all children 0 through 17 years of age living in their households. Measurements. Questions from the Child Health Supplement to the 1988 National Health Interview Survey and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease Bronchial Symptoms Questionnaire were used to estimate the prevalence of asthma and wheezing-related illness. Results. Information was gathered on 1285 children. Of this sample, 184 (14.3%) were reported to have ever had asthma (cumulative prevalence) and 111 (8.6%) were reported to have asthma in the last 12 months (period prevalence). The asthma period prevalence rate among Bronx children was twice the United States rate (4.3%). Among children 0 through 11 years of age, the prevalence rate was similar for boys and girls, although among children 12 through 17 years of age, asthma was significantly more prevalent among boys. Fifty-four children (4.2%) were reported to have had wheezing in the past 12 months unassociated with a diagnosis of asthma (wheeze only). The cumulative, but not the period, prevalence rate of asthma differed significantly by income and race/ethnicity. The cumulative prevalence was significantly higher among Hispanics and children from the lowest income families. The prevalence of wheeze only (no reported history of asthma) was higher among whites (6.4%) and blacks (5.8%) than Hispanics (2.9%) (P < .1). The reported number of wheezing attacks and the average number of nights per week that sleep was disturbed by wheezing during the past year were similar for those with asthma and those with wheeze only, although severe attacks (wheezing severe enough to limit speech) were significantly more likely among those reported to have asthma (P < .001). The total asthma prevalence (period prevalence of asthma plus wheeze only) was 12.8% and was quite consistent across subgroups. Conclusions. These data suggest that the prevalence of asthma among inner- city children may be substantially higher than the rates for this group estimated from national survey data. Some proportion of the wheeze only group may represent undiagnosed, and thereby undertreated, asthma. Public health efforts directed at reducing asthma morbidity and mortality need to address the possibility that asthma prevalence is higher within inner cities and that a large number of children with asthma may be inadequately diagnosed and treated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)356-362
Number of pages7
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1994


  • asthma
  • wheezing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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