Health Update

April 14, 2004 4 min read

Children With Asthma Less Active Than Peers; Parents’ Fears Cited

Urban schoolchildren with asthma are less active than their peers, a tendency that persists regardless of the severity of their condition or whether medications are used to control the symptoms, an analysis has found.

In a study of 243 urban 6- to 12-year-olds, those with asthma were active an average of 116 minutes a day, compared with 146 minutes for children without the respiratory disorder, according to the study, “Physical Activity in Urban School-Aged Children with Asthma,” printed in the April issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Twenty-one percent of the children with asthma were active less than 30 minutes a day, compared with 9 percent of children without asthma. Children with moderate or severe asthma were more likely to be active less than 30 minutes a day, while children whose parents believed that exercise could improve asthma were more likely to be highly active, around 120 minutes each day.

Parents’ views about the effects of exercise on asthma also appear to influence their children’s level of physical activity, sometimes to the possible detriment of the children’s health, the researchers conclude.

The study shows that children with asthma whose parents feared that the youngsters would get sick or upset from exercise or strenuous play were more likely to be inactive.

“It is concerning ... that almost one-fifth of all parents agreed that exercise is dangerous for children with asthma and that one-quarter of parents of children with asthma were afraid that their child would get sick if he or she exercises,” write the authors, led by Dr. David M. Lang of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

The findings are based on telephone interviews in 2001 with parents of 137 asthmatic children and 106 youngsters without the condition. Parents were surveyed about their children’s activity in a given day, their number of days active in a typical week, their asthma characteristics and treatment, advice given by their children’s doctors, and their own beliefs about physical activity and asthma.

School Absences

Children in the lowest-income families are more likely than children in wealthier families to have missed no school in the past 12 months because of injury or illness, according to a federal study.

“Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Children: 2002,” is available online from the Centers for Disease Control. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Data collected from a nationally representative sample of 12,524 children in the United States under 18 showed that 31 percent of those in families with annual incomes of $20,000 or below missed no school in the 12 months prior to the survey, compared with 23 percent of children from families with incomes of $75,000 or more.

Yet children in the lowest-income families were more than twice as likely—10 percent of them, compared with 4 percent—as children in the highest-income families to have absences from school of 11 days or more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Children: National Health Interview Survey, 2002.”

The annual report, first conducted in 1957, offers a comprehensive look at children’s health, with data on topics that include allergies, asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, prescription-medication use, and access to medical care.

On the subject of asthma, this year’s study found that 16 percent of children from poor families had been diagnosed with the disorder at some point in their lives, compared with 11 percent of children from families with higher incomes.

And children of single mothers were also more likely to have been diagnosed with asthma—17 percent—compared with 11 percent of children living with two parents, and 10 percent of children in families headed by a single father.

Extrapolating from its sample data, the report estimates that almost 5 million, or 8 percent, of U.S. children between the ages of 3 and 17 have a learning disability, and that almost 4 million, or 7 percent of that age group, have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Boys were almost twice as likely as girls to have ADHD; the proportions were 10 percent for boys and 4 percent for girls.

Maltreatment of Children

An estimated 896,000 children across the country were victims of abuse or neglect in 2002, according to data released April 1 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Read the full report “Child Maltreatment 2002,” from the Children’s Bureau.

The statistics show that about 12.3 out of every 1,000 children were victims of abuse or neglect, a rate just barely below the previous year’s victimization rate of 12.4 out of 1,000 children. About 1,400 children died of abuse or neglect, a rate of 1.2 children per 100,000 children in the population.

The rate of child neglect and abuse in 2002 was about 20 percent less, however, than the rate in 1993, when such maltreatment peaked at an estimated 15.3 out of every 1,000 children, according to HHS.

In light of the findings, U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona announced he would form a new working group to focus attention on the problem and find ways to reduce its scope.

—Darcia Harris Bowman