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Thursday, 31 May, 2001, 00:59 GMT 01:59 UK
'High asthma rates' away from cities
Children in the cities had the same asthma rates as indigenous communities
The study contradicts previous research
Rural children are just as likely to have asthma as those living in urban areas, an Australian research project suggests.

The study contradicts previous research which suggested asthma was rare in populations living a long way from major cities.

Almost 16% of rural children were found by researchers to have true asthma, in which they feel their airways are constricted.

The rate in children and teenagers in the general Australian population is between 17% and 19%.


One possible explanation ... is that they are already exposed to the lifestyle factors important in the development of asthma

Dr Andrea Venn, University of Nottingham
One in five rural children were found to have developed asthma-like symptoms at some point in childhood.

Dr Patricia Valery, of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, who led the study, said: "The high frequency of asthma emphasises the need to involve these communities closely in order to explain to them how best to prevent the disease, for example by reducing smoking."

More than 1,600 children aged up to 17 who lived in five indigenous communities in the Torres Strait Archipelago and Cape York Peninsula were involved in the study, published in the European Respiratory Journal.

Just over half were boys.

Symptoms

Dr Valery and her team interviewed children and their parents, and gave out a questionnaire which had key terms translated into the aboriginal language.

They were asked about symptoms such as whistling breath or wheezing, constriction of the airways and dry night-time cough.

They were also asked when they experienced these symptoms and whether they were on asthma medication.

Age, gender, ethnic origin and factors, such as how many adults in the house worked and levels of education, were also considered.

Almost 90% of the children surveyed were indigenous.

Twenty per cent had already presented with wheezing which indicated asthma.

Over the last 12 months, 12% had wheezed, and just under 8% had wheezed after physical activity.

Of those who had wheezed over the last year, 65% had problems sleeping, and 23% had had difficulty speaking.

There were variations between the communities, but the researchers were unable to explain these.

'Westernised lifestyles'

Dr Andrea Venn, lecturer in epidemiology in the division of respiratory medicine at the University of Nottingham, told BBC News Online the Australian research findings were interesting, although maybe not unexpected.

"Previous research suggests asthma becomes more common as populations become more urbanised or affluent.

"One possible explanation for the high reported frequency of asthma in these children is that they are already exposed to the lifestyle factors important in the development of asthma, factors which have yet to be fully identified."

A spokesman for the National Asthma Campaign said: "In the UK there is no significant tendency for asthma to be diagnosed more often in urban versus rural areas.

"Any differences could be due to a variety of factors such as lifestyle (including levels of smoking), the environment (including differential exposure to allergens) and access to services.

"Once again, it demonstrates that the causes of asthma are unclear and further research is required."

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