Asthma prevalence in Melbourne schoolchildren: have we reached the peak?

Colin F Robertson, Mary F Roberts and Johanna H Kappers
Med J Aust 2004; 180 (6): 273-276.


Objective: To determine the change in prevalence of asthma, eczema and allergic rhinitis in Australian schoolchildren between 1993 and 2002.

Design: Questionnaire based survey, using the protocol of the International Study of Asthma and Allergy in Childhood.

Setting: Metropolitan Melbourne primary schools within a 20 km radius of the GPO in 1993 and 2002.

Subjects: All children in school years 1 and 2 (ages 6 and 7) attending a random sample of 84 schools in 1993 and 63 schools in 2002.

Main outcome measures: Parent-reported symptoms of atopic disease; treatment for asthma; country of birth.

Results: There was a 26% reduction in the 12-month period prevalence of reported wheeze, from 27.2% in 1993 to 20.0% in 2002. The magnitude of reduction was similar for boys (27%) and girls (25%). The 12-month period prevalence of reported eczema increased from 11.1% in 1993 to 17.2% in 2002, and rhinitis increased from 9.7% to 12.7%. There were reductions in the proportion of children attending an emergency department for asthma in the previous year (3.6% to 2.3%), the proportion admitted to hospital (1.7% to 1.1%) and the proportion taking asthma medication (18.5% to 13.4%). Of those who reported frequent wheeze, there was an increase in the proportion taking regular inhaled steroids (34.5% to 40.9%).

Conclusion: There has been a significant reduction in the prevalence of reported asthma in Melbourne schoolchildren, whereas the prevalence of eczema and allergic rhinitis has continued to increase.

Please login with your free MJA account to view this article in full

  • Colin F Robertson1
  • Mary F Roberts2
  • Johanna H Kappers3

  • Department of Respiratory Medicine, Royal Children’s Hospital, Parkville, VIC.


  • 1. Magnus P, Jaakkola JJ. Secular trend in the occurrence of asthma among children and young adults: critical appraisal of repeated cross sectional surveys. BMJ 1997; 314: 1795-1799.
  • 2. Woolcock AJ, Bastiampillai SA, Marks GB, Keena VA. The burden of asthma in Australia. Med J Aust 2001; 175: 141-145. <MJA full text>
  • 3. Downs SH, Marks GB, Sporik R, et al. Continued increase in the prevalence of asthma and atopy. Arch Dis Child 2001; 84: 20-23.
  • 4. Robertson CF, Dalton MF, Peat JK, et al. Asthma and other atopic diseases in Australian children. Australian arm of the International Study of Asthma and Allergy in Childhood. Med J Aust 1998; 168: 434-438. <MJA full text>
  • 5. Worldwide variations in the prevalence of asthma symptoms: the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC). Eur Respir J 1998; 12: 315-335.
  • 6. Asher I, Kiel U, Anderson HR. International study of asthma and allergies in childhood (ISAAC): rationale and methods. Eur Respir J 1995; 8: 483-491.
  • 7. Stata [computer program]. Version 8. College Station, Tex: Stata Corporation, 2003.
  • 8. Toelle B, Ng K, Belousova E, et al. Trends in the prevalence of asthma over 20 years in Belmont NSW, Australia [abstract]. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2003; 167: A470.
  • 9. Goh D, Wang X, Tan T, et al. The changing prevalence of asthma and allergies in school-going children in Singapore: a preliminary report of two studies 7 years apart using the ISAAC protocol [abstract]. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2003; 167: A471.
  • 10. Wong G, Leung T, Ko F, et al. No evidence of increase in asthma prevalence in Hong Kong Chinese children [abstract]. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2003; 167: A471.
  • 11. Bauman A. Has the prevalence of asthma symptoms increased in Australian children? J Paediatr Child Health 1993; 29: 424-428.
  • 12. Jenkins MA, Clarke JR, Carlin JB, et al. Validation of questionnaire and bronchial hyperresponsiveness against respiratory physician assessment in the diagnosis of asthma. Int J Epidemiol 1996; 25: 609-616.
  • 13. Oddy WH, Peat JK, de Klerk NH. Maternal asthma, infant feeding, and the risk of asthma in childhood. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2002; 110: 65-67.
  • 14. von Mutius E, Weiland S, Fritzsch C, et al. Increasing prevalence of hay fever and atopy among children in Leipzig, East Germany. Lancet 1998; 351: 862-868.
  • 15. Peat JK, van den Berg RH, Green WF, et al. Changing prevalence of asthma in Australian children. BMJ 1994; 308: 1591-1596.


remove_circle_outline Delete Author
add_circle_outline Add Author

Do you have any competing interests to declare? *

I/we agree to assign copyright to the Medical Journal of Australia and agree to the Conditions of publication *
I/we agree to the Terms of use of the Medical Journal of Australia *
Email me when people comment on this article

Responses are now closed for this article.